DeKALB – Not one week after memorializing five students killed in a 2008 campus shooting, the Northern Illinois University community is again reeling from the deaths of two more Huskies, and many are remembering the inspiring individuals who were poised to “improve the world.”
Trevor Wehner, 21, of Sheridan, was set to graduate from NIU’s human resources management program in May. Clayton Parks, 32, of Elgin was a proud 2014 graduate of NIU’s College of Business. They were killed Friday in a workplace shooting at the Henry Pratt Co. in Aurora.
It was Wehner’s first day as an HR intern, and Parks was the HR manager. Josh Pinkard, 37, of Oswego, Russell Beyer, 47, of Yorkville, and Vicente Juarez, 54, of Oswego also were killed.
Dennis Barsema, NIU board chairman and a former business professor, taught Parks multiple times in NIU’s social entrepreneurship program.
“The world lost a great one when we lost [Parks],” Barsema said in a phone interview Wednesday. “He not only cared about making himself the best person he could be, but he cared deeply about making everyone around him better as a result. I have no doubt that if [Parks] could have been allowed to live his life out, he would have found multiple ways to improve our world and make this world a better place.”
Wehner was following in Parks’ footsteps when he was included in a meeting Friday in which an employee was being terminated. That meeting turned tragic when employee Gary Martin, the subject of the termination, opened fire in the room.
Terry Bishop, associate professor in the College of Business, taught both Wehner and Parks.
“[Wehner] was in three of my classes, and he was an absolute joy to have as a student,” Bishop said in a statement Tuesday. “He had a smile on his face every day and always had a positive, easy-going disposition. He often came around faculty offices just to say hello, and I will never forgot how great it was to see that smile of his.”
Barsema fondly recalled the first time he had Parks in his class. Parks was one of the first students to go through the social entrepreneurship curriculum, with Barsema and fellow instructor Christine Mooney, who is the Barsema professor of social entrepreneurship.
“He asked if he could sit down and have coffee with me, so we went down into the atrium of Barsema Hall after class one day and chatted for about an hour and a half,” Barsema said. “And he just shared with me that after being in that class for several weeks, he felt he had found purpose. He had found that thing he wanted to do in his life to give it purpose, so he just asked for my help and mentoring during his journey.”
Mooney said she was still processing the news of Parks’ death.
“[Parks] was a wonderful human being,” Mooney said. “He just had a preciseness as a human, in all the different ways: kindness, consideration, leadership. He was committed. He made hard decisions, and had empathy that went with it.”
Wehner graduated from Serena High School, where his basketball coach, Dain Twait, described him as an individual who did all the right things and set an example for the program.
“He came ready to practice, he didn’t take any off,” Twait said in a phone interview Saturday afternoon. “He was always joking and goofing around, keeping a fun atmosphere.”
That character trait paved the way for what should have been Wehner’s full career, Bishop said.
“[Wehner] was interested in the human resource profession because he felt he could make a difference for both organizations and employees,” Bishop said. “He had a special capacity to help people make decisions and solve problems.”
The Aurora shooting came only one day after the NIU community gathered outside Cole Hall to remember the victims of the Feb. 14, 2008, shooting: Catalina Garcia, 20, Daniel Parmenter, 20, Ryanne Mace, 19, Julianna Gehant, 32, and Gayle Dubowski, 20 were killed.
Grappling with a tragedy of this nature is something that, by cruel happenstance alone, is not new to NIU.
Brooke Ruxton, executive director of Student Counseling and Consultation Services, was hired by the university not long after the 2008 shooting, but keeps faith that the strength of the NIU community will come through despite the pain.
“When I came to NIU, I joined a community that was grieving,” Ruxton said. “What I saw then is really the same thing I see today: No matter the scale of the event, this is a community that comes together and supports one another through the most difficult times. Our faculty, staff and students look out for one another, they provide a space to grieve, and they lean on each other for support. I saw that 11 years ago, and I’ve seen it in everyone I’ve interacted with this week.”
NIU President Lisa Freeman echoed Ruxton’s sentiments in her own statement Saturday, saying “loss like this is devastating and senseless.”
Ruxton and her team of 18 counselors are on hand for students, faculty and staff in need. She encouraged people to check in with themselves and others. She said her team is identifying classes, clubs and groups Wehner was a part of so they can better reach out to support grieving classmates.
Those seeking support can call counseling services 24 hours a day at 815-753-1206, or reach out to NIU’s Employee Assistance Program.
A vigil for Parks and Wehner is planned for Thursday in the Regency Room of the Holmes Student Center. Doors open at 5 p.m., and the vigil will start at 5:15.
• News editor Derek Barichello, of the Ottawa Times, contributed to this story.