DeKALB – Trevor Wehner was so excited to begin his internship at Henry Pratt Co. in Aurora that he told his Northern Illinois University professor, Terry Bishop, about it Thursday, one day before he was slain in a shooting at the plant.
It was Wehner’s first day on the job under the leadership of the plant’s human resources manager and 2014 NIU graduate Clayton Parks, 32, of Elgin, who also was killed in the Feb. 15 shooting, when an employee who was being terminated opened fire in the termination meeting. More than 300 mourners packed into the Regency Room in the Holmes Student Center to lift up the NIU community after the loss of two of their own during a remembrance vigil.
Bishop, associate professor in the College of Business who taught both Wehner, 21, of Sheridan, and Parks, said Parks’ passion for using his connections as a proud NIU alumnus to support up-and-coming students was the reason for Wehner’s internship.
“This whole thing reminds one of how important it is to recognize the influence we have on each other,” said Bishop, who said he will “never forget” Wehner’s comments one day before he was killed.
Also killed were fellow plant employees Josh Pinkard, 37, of Oswego; Russell Beyer, 47, of Yorkville; and Vicente Juarez, 54, of Oswego.
NIU leaders, DeKalb community members and state and federal representatives gathered in the student center Thursday, gripping candles, sharing memories and grieving with their Huskie family.
“I stand here this evening with a heavy heart,” NIU President Lisa Freeman said. “For NIU, [Wehner’s] and [Parks’] legacies will be about the lasting contributions to the lives of many and how they personified what it means to be a Huskie.”
NIU student Abbey Roemer said she came to school a scared freshman but quickly built a cherished mentorship with Parks.
“Talking to Clay about his work and career helped me develop my love for HR,” Roemer said. “He was a selfless mentor, who made you feel as if you’ve known him forever, by the way he talked of his family and friends with immense love.”
Parks’ wife, Abby, held their baby son, Axel, in her lap throughout the vigil. She sat next to a number of Parks’ family members. Wehner’s family was not in attendance.
“Going forward, I want you all to feel the bond that is not only holding us together, but [Wehner’s] hometown community together,” said NIU student Kelli Tyler, who eulogized her classmate and spoke of his funeral held Wednesday. “It was apparent at [Wehner’s] services last night just absolutely how many lives he’s touched.”
Yousef Judeh, another of Wehner’s classmates, spoke of the immediate response grieving students received. He said returning to classes Tuesday after the news was “an obstacle.”
Judeh and Tyler both spoke of Wehner’s commitment to his classes, how he loved baseball and how NIU professors and counselors have reached out in their time of need.
“We did not have to cope with that grief alone,” Judeh said. “So today, to help us continue [Wehner’s] legacy, share a smile with a stranger, make a new friend and grab a business card.”
The Aurora shooting happened only one day after the 11th anniversary of the
Feb. 14, 2008, campus shooting that killed five students inside Cole Hall.
“You’re likely asking, ‘What can we do?’ ” Freeman pondered before a somber moment of silence. “That’s the Huskie in you. Your willingness to help, your light of optimism in the darkest of days, your desire to be a change-maker. We Huskies are a community of diverse people who care and help. The power of our community cannot be underestimated. It makes a difference. You make a difference.”