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Local

Aurora first responders honored for actions in responding to deadly Henry Pratt shooting

AURORA – Aurora Police Officer John Cebulski heard shots being fired as he entered the Henry Pratt Co. the afternoon of Feb. 15.

"Officer (Chris) Weaver and I went upstairs and assumed that the shooter was on the second floor," Cebulski said.

Cebulski soon found himself face to face with the shooter.

"I turned to announce myself and to point a gun and he shot first, hitting me in the knee," Cebulski said.

Cebulski along with fellow Aurora police officers Marco Gomez, Adam Miller, Reynaldo Rivera and James Zegar were honored for their actions that day during the "Celebration of Courage: Aurora Strong Recognition Ceremony" at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora on April 29.

The four officers were shot and hospitalized during the shooting with gunman Gary Martin, 45, of Aurora, who died in a shootout with police after he shot and killed five of his co-workers at Henry Pratt. Despite being honored, Cebulski said he doesn't view his actions as being heroic.

"That's just the way I was trained," said Cebulski, who is still on crutches and going through rehabilitation. "You are thinking about what needed to be done."

Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin credited Cebulski and others who helped out that day for being the lights in the City of Lights.

"It is my pleasure to report that Aurora continues to shine," said during the ceremony. "As we will forever be the City of Lights. We shine much brighter because of the fine men and women of the Aurora Police Department, the Aurora Fire Department and our Aurora 911 dispatchers. They are the lights that shine in our City of Lights."

State Rep. Keith Wheeler, R-Oswego, also honored the officers during the ceremony as well as the victims.

"We know we lost innocent lives that day," Wheeler said. "We saw the worst in humanity followed by incredible acts of courage and duty that saved more innocent lives from being lost."

Mueller Water Products CEO and president Scott Hall said the company has a "tremendous debt" to those who responded that day. Mueller Water Products is the parent company of Henry Pratt Co.

"I'm sad to tell you that five could have been 15 or event 20," he said. "In the aftermath, I find myself still in awe of what you do every day."

Among those killed in the shooting was Sheridan native Trevor Wehner, 21. The DeKalb resident was a student at Northern Illinois University and a human resources intern at Henry Pratt.

Wehner had just begun working that day in the human resources department at Mueller Water Products, the parent company of Henry Pratt Co., when he was included in a meeting on Feb. 15 in which Martin was being terminated.

Also killed were Clayton Parks, 32, of Elgin, a 2014 NIU graduate who was the human resources manager; Russell Beyer, 47, of Yorkville, a mold operator and union chairman; Vicente Juarez, 54, of Oswego, a stock room attendant and forklift operator; and Josh Pinkard, 37, of Oswego, the plant manager.

Timothy Williams, who was shot three times – once in his right arm and twice in his back – is suing the Illinois State Police for not following proper procedures Martin to keep the handgun used in the shooting.

Williams, a union steward and factory worker at Henry Pratt Co., was also at the meeting, said Matthew Willens, of Willens Law Offices in Chicago, one of the attorneys representing Williams in the lawsuit. Williams filed the suit on March 8 in the Court of Claims of the State of Illinois.

The Aurora Strong Community Fund has raised more than $500,000 for the families of those who lost their lives in the shooting.

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