Illinois factory gunman killed 5 victims after being fired

AURORA, Ill. (Reuters) - The gunman who killed five co-workers and wounded five police officers at an Illinois factory was a violent felon who had just been fired, and the plant manager and a young intern were among his victims, authorities said on Saturday.

Gary Martin, 45, armed himself with a handgun, which he owned illegally, before reporting for a meeting on Friday at the Henry Pratt Company where his employment was terminated, Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman told reporters.

He was later killed in a shootout with SWAT-team officers who stormed the sprawling plant 40 miles (65 km) west of Chicago.

Martin had bought the gun he used, a .40 caliber Smith & Wesson handgun with a laser sight, in 2014 before authorities realized he had a prior felony conviction, Ziman said.

"The fact remains that some disgruntled person walked in and had access to a firearm that he shouldn't have had access to," Ziman said at the news conference.

Investigators were seeking to determine why Martin was not forced to relinquish his gun before the shooting, Ziman said. He should have been barred from owning a handgun because he had a 1995 conviction for aggravated assault in Mississippi.

He also had several prior arrests in Illinois, Ziman said, including for suspicion of domestic violence and criminal damage to property.

The bloodshed marked the latest spasm 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.

The violence unfolded over an hour and a half, although Martin's victims, including the wounded policemen, were struck by gunfire in the first several minutes, police said.

Police breached a door at the plant with an armored rescue vehicle called a BearCat, allowing SWAT officers to enter and search for the gunman and injured victims, Aurora Deputy Police Chief Keefe Jackson told reporters.

Heavily armed SWAT officers combed through the nearly 30,000-square foot (2,800-square meter) facility, their sight-lines obscured by racks with valves and machinery, Aurora police Lieutenant Rick Robertson told reporters.

Martin was holed up in a machine shop at the back, apparently waiting for police, Robertson said, and exchanged gunfire with them. It was not immediately clear if Martin died from a self-inflicted wound or police gunfire.

"It was a very short gunfight and it was over," Robertson said.

INTERN ON FIRST DAY

The plant, which manufactures water distribution products and operates as a factory and warehouse, employs about 200 workers in a working-class district of Aurora, the second-largest city in Illinois.

Among the victims were Trevor Wehner, a human resources intern who was spending his first day at the company when he was fatally shot, police and a family friend said.

Authorities identified the other plant workers who were killed as Josh Pinkard, the plant manager; Clayton Parks, the human resources manager; Russell Beyer, a mold operator; and Vicente Juarez, a stock room attendant and fork lift operator. Police did not give the ages of the victims.

A sixth employee wounded in the shooting was treated for non-life-threatening injuries.

At least two of the five police officers wounded by gunfire remained in hospital on Saturday in stable condition, Ziman said.

Another officer was injured in the incident, but not by gunfire, police said.

Neighbors of Martin, who lived in an apartment in Aurora, described him as a quiet man whom they often saw operating a remote control car and a drone.

"He looked very normal," said neighbor Gildardo Bravo, a 43-year-old cleaning company supervisor.

(Reporting by Robert Chiarito; Additional reporting and writing by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Tom Brown and James Dalgleish)

02/16/2019 15:36

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