Aurora — a far western suburb of Chicago with over 200,000 residents — is about an hour’s drive from Loyola University’s Lake Shore Campus when traffic is light.
But to Loyola students who hail from Aurora, their hearts still reside in their hometown, especially in the wake of a tragic Feb. 15 shooting in which a man opened fire at the manufacturing plant as he was being fired, killing five coworkers and wounding five police officers before he was shot and killed by police.
Anass Kabir, an 18-year-old first-year at Loyola from Aurora, said he was shocked when he first heard about the shooting. He said his house is just a ten-minute drive from Henry Pratt Co., where the shooting occurred.
“One of my friends brought it up in a group chat and right then and there I went online to see what was happening and I saw the shooting was on CNN and local news stations,” the biology major said.
Jesus Ponpa, a 19-year-old first-year at Loyola, also found out about the incident through a group chat with family members from back home in Aurora.
“I was kind of startled at first because you never know what’s going to happen to your hometown and stuff like that, so it just caught me off guard and I was very upset in the moment,” Ponpa, a neuroscience major, said.
Ponpa and Michael Schindlbeck, also a 19-year-old first-year from Aurora, have gone back home to Aurora since the shooting. Both said they noticed more tension and uncertainty among community members as they grieve and try to to heal.
“I go home mostly every weekend and so just something I have noticed, just that a lot of people were just kind of on edge,” Ponpa said of the weekend directly following the shooting.
Schindlbeck also described the atmosphere in Aurora as “cautious.”
“There’s a sense of people just looking around a little bit more, being slightly more suspicious,” the physics major said.
While Kabir and his family weren’t directly affected by the shooting, the whole Aurora community has felt the impact of the incident, he said.
“One of my friends, his father has a shop, and they used to do deliveries to this company [Henry Pratt Co.] all the time,” Kabir said. “When he told me that I was like ‘dang, you never know’. You were so close, but not too close.”
As the people of Aurora try to make sense of the lives lost less than two weeks ago, Kabir also says the tragedy has brought the community together.
“I know a lot of my friends from high school are posting about it on social media,” Kabir said. “‘Aurora strong’, ‘we should help out the families affected’.”
Similarly, Schindlbeck talked about how the community has come together in attempt to stay strong during such a difficult time. He said one way the community united was through a prayer vigil put on by the city to honor the victims. Over 1700 people attended the vigil, according to the the city’s government Facebook.
“Of course the families were there, but there were just so many people who had no direct connection to these people,” Schindlbeck said. “Like my parents went and they didn’t know anyone either. The community was very unified in reacting to this tragedy.”
Ponpa said he noticed a lot more people than usual attended his church, St. Nicholas Catholic Church, the weekend following the shooting.
The phrase “Aurora Strong” has been printed on t-shirts to raise money for the families of victims. A Go Fund Me page has been started for the same purpose, which has more than tripled it’s goal of $50,000.
“Even though I wasn’t even there or I didn’t know anybody, it just felt personal,” Schindlbeck said.
The shooting has affected people across Illinois, at Loyola and beyond. Trevor Wehner, a 21-year-old student at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, was one of the victims who lost his life at the Henry Pratt Co. shooting. Originally from Sheridan, Illinois, it was Wehner’s first day as a Human Resources Intern for the company.
There were four other victims of the shooting, all employees of Henry Pratt Co., who suffered fatal gunshot wounds: Clayton Parks, Human Resources Manager, Russell Beyer, a Mold Operator, Vicente Juarez, a Stock Room Attendant and Fork Lift Operator and Josh Pinkard, Plant Manager.
The Aurora shooting isn’t an isolated event. Students, like many citizens across the nation, have been largely impacted by mass shootings within recent years. A shooting at Mercy Hospital, which many Loyola nursing students frequent, on Nov. 19, 2018 left many students shocked and afraid. In April of last year, The Phoenix reported students across the country rallied for gun control following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Feb. 2018.
While the shooting at Henry Pratt Co. can seem normalized during a time when firearm homicides and suicides are on the rise, the incident has raised concerns about how to handle gun control across the nation. It was reported the gunman illegally obtained the gun used in the shooting, having a history of domestic-violence and assault charges.
“This wasn’t supposed to happen in our city… He shouldn’t have even had a weapon,” Police Chief Kristen Ziman wrote in a statement published by the Aurora Illinois Police Department on Feb. 19.
Ponpa said he believes stricter gun laws are needed to solve the nation’s problem of mass shootings, but he also recognized it’s “a very difficult situation to handle.”
Ziman has only said the gunman’s name once for the media and will never let his name cross her lips again, she wrote, expressing the pain caused by this man’s actions.
Every on-duty police officer, and even some off-duty officers, showed up to the scene, according to Facebook updates from the Aurora Illinois Police Department. Five officers were wounded before the gunman was killed by police, according to a Facebook post by the city’s police department.
All officers who were wounded were transported to hospitals with non-life-threatening injuries, according to a statement on Facebook from the police department. The police department posted the last injured officer was released from the hospital on Feb. 21.
The Aurora Illinois Police Department wasn’t available for comment. They are currently releasing all statements concerning the incident through social media.
An earlier version of this article said Wehner was from DeKalb, Illinois. Wehner was actually from Sheridan, Illinois, and attended college in DeKalb. The story has since been updated to reflect this.