Thousands brave freezing cold in vigil for Illinois shooting victims

Mourners attend a vigil for five people killed in a shooting incident at Henry Pratt Company in Aurora, Illinois, U.S. February 17, 2019. REUTERS/Robert Chiarito

By Robert Chiarito

AURORA, Ill. (Reuters) – More than 2,000 people braved icy rain in sub-freezing temperatures in Illinois on Sunday for a vigil paying respects to five people killed and five police officers wounded by a factory worker who opened fire on Friday after losing his job.

Solemn mourners stood before five white crosses with the names of the dead that became a shrine to the victims bearing pictures and hand-written remembrances outside the factory where the shooting took place in Aurora, about 40 miles (64 km) west of Chicago.

“My heart is broken again for the family members of the victims,” said Mary Kay Mace, mother of the late Ryanne Mace, who was killed 11 years ago in a mass shooting at Northern Illinois University.

“I’m living proof that you can survive it, however. It’s a hard, difficult trek but it can be done,” said Mace, 55, who drove three hours from Petersburg, Illinois, and wore a university pin to honor shooting victim Trevor Wehner, a 21-year-old intern from NIU who was on his first day on the job.

The other fatal victims were Josh Pinkard, the plant manager; Clayton Parks, the human resources manager; Russell Beyer, a mold operator and union chairman; and Vicente Juarez, a stock room attendant and forklift operator.

Mourners attend a vigil for five people killed in a shooting incident at Henry Pratt Company in Aurora, Illinois, U.S. February 17, 2019. REUTERS/Robert Chiarito

Mourners attend a vigil for five people killed in a shooting incident at Henry Pratt Company in Aurora, Illinois, U.S. February 17, 2019. REUTERS/Robert Chiarito

A sixth employee and five police officers responding to the scene were wounded. The gunman himself was slain about 90 minutes later in a gunfight with police who stormed the building.

Friday’s bloodshed marked the latest outbreak of gun violence in a nation where mass shootings have become almost commonplace and came a day after the first anniversary of the massacre of 17 people by a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Several local pastors spoke and the vigil drew people of many ages.

Barbara Fultz, a 72-year-old retired woman who has been living in Aurora for more than 50 years, said her church, Main Baptist Church in Aurora, had told members about the vigil and she has a cousin who works at the Henry Pratt Company factory, a maker of industrial valves.

“It’s a tragedy all over,” Fultz said. “We’ve never had anything like this here. It’s so sad.”

Michelle Lamos, a 40-year-old healthcare worker, stood with her 14-month-old daughter.

“We need to come together. This is awful,” Lamos said.

The gunman was a violent felon who obtained a state permit to buy a firearm despite being legally barred from owning one, officials said.

(Reporting by Robert Chiarito; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Sandra Maler)

Aurora, Colorado marks five-year anniversary of theater massacre

Lt. Jad Lanigan of the Aurora police department looks over crosses for those killed in the Aurora theater shooting, at a vigil on the 5-year anniversary of the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado July 20, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

By Keith Coffman

AURORA, Col. (Reuters) – A somber crowd marked the fifth anniversary early on Thursday of a shooting rampage at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado that left 12 people dead and 70 injured.

About 100 family and community members and friends gathered outside Aurora’s city hall to remember the victims and first responders with a solemn candlelight vigil and procession. Many wept softly as they released white balloons into the night sky or wrote tributes on small wooden crosses.

“The thing I see after five years is the resilience of this community,” said Aurora Police Department’s Jad Lanigan, who was the incident commander at the scene of the July 20, 2012 shooting. “In Colorado we’ve had our fair share of tragedies but we always bounce back.”

Some 400 exuberant moviegoers had packed into the Century 16 movie theater in the Denver suburb for a midnight screening of Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises” that quickly turned to horror when a gunman opened fire on the crowd.

Twelve moviegoers were killed and 70 others either wounded by gunfire or injured fleeing the theater.

The 7/20 Memorial Foundation, a group of survivors, victims and their families, sponsored Thursday’s event.┬áThe organization is raising funds to build a permanent memorial to the tragedy.

“We are part of a family, we never have to say anything about it. It’s just there,” said Jansen Young, whose boyfriend Jonathan Bunk was killed protecting her during the shooting.

A moment of silence was observed at 12:38 a.m., the time at which James Holmes sprayed the crowded theater with bullets. He later surrendered to police in the theater parking lot.

The then-24-year-old California native pleaded not guilty of murder charges by reason of insanity in April 2015. A jury convicted him on all counts and he is currently serving his multiple life sentences at an undisclosed prison.

George Brauchler, the district attorney who prosecuted Holmes, said in an interview before the event that his thoughts are often with the victims and their families.

Brauchler also said the police officers who responded to the theater saved many lives when they grabbed mortally wounded victims and turned their patrol cars into makeshift ambulances.

“I still see those guys and they are changed forever — much like Aurora itself,” he said.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman, additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Editing by Catherine Evans)