DeKALB — Students and faculty members had the opportunity to speak and reflect on those lost in the Feb. 15 shooting at Henry Pratt Co., 401 S. Highland Ave., Aurora,
Hundreds of NIU and DeKalb community members gathered in the Regency Room of the Holmes Student Center Thursday night for a candlelight vigil to honor the lives of senior management major Trevor Wehner and alumnus Clayton Parks.
Wehner was a human resource intern starting his first day at Henry Pratt Co., and Parks was the human resource manager of the company.
NIU President Lisa Freeman and Kelly Wesener-Michael, dean of students and associate vice president for Student Affairs, began the vigil to provide solidarity and support for the university community.
Freeman said these losses will have a profound and permanent effect on those who knew and loved Wehner and Parks.
“I stand here this evening with a heavy heart,” Freeman said. “A great loss happened Friday when the of lives of Wehner and Parks were taken.”
Wesener-Michael said gathering together to find strength and healing in the presence of others is something university members have done before.
“Our Huskie community has time and time again shown its resolve with a depth of spirit that allows us to not only heal but to be strengthened by the process,” Wesener-Michael said.
Freeman said she didn’t have the opportunity to know Wehner or Parks personally but has spent the last several days learning more about them.
Freeman said she understood Wehner to be a hardworking student. Wehner recently earned his spot on the 2018 College of Business Dean’s List.
“[Wehner’s] professors describe him as someone with a special capacity to help people make decisions and solve problems,” Freeman said. “He was also someone who encouraged others and did so with genuine warmth, interest, positivity, a terrific sense of humor and always a smile; everyone has been commenting about his smile.”
Freeman also said hearing faculty talk about Parks with such detail and respect speaks volumes about his ability to connect with people.
“During his time as a student, [Parks] was highly engaged and demonstrated as a student [with] a natural ability to lead,” Freeman said. “That continued after his graduation when he frequently worked with the college to find ways to help NIU and mentor our students.”
Students and faculty members also shared their knowledge of Wehner and Parks with kind words of remembrance.
Senior management major Abby Roemer said she remembers Parks as someone who always went out of his way to help anyone with advice, suggestions and support.
“When I first met [Parks], I was a scared and nervous [first-year] that greeted him by Mr. Parks, which he quickly corrected me by calling just Clay,” Roemer said. “It wasn’t long before he put me at ease, and I realized he would be a cherished mentor and life-long friend.”
Roemer said she will always be grateful to Terrence Bishop, associate professor of management, who connected her to Parks.
Bishop said he also taught Wehner in three of his classes, one of which was employment law during the fall 2018 semester.
Bishop said he was always blown away by Wehner as he would be the first student to show up to class and was 30 minutes early to an 8 a.m. class.
“He made my life better every morning with that smile,” Bishop said. “He told me Thursday how excited he was for the internship. I’ll never forget that.”
Bishop said Wehner and Parks had a lot of the same characteristics, and he likes to think the two were cut from the same cloth.
“[Parks] was a natural leader,” Bishop said. “It was based on the quality of relationships he established with people.”
Senior management major Yousef Judeh spoke in honor of Wehner and said everyone is always told counselors are available to help cope with any problems, but many students don’t have the courage to reach out.
“Coming back to class on Tuesday was an obstacle,” Judeh said. “With the support of our NIU counseling services and our professors, we did not have to go through the grief alone.”
Judeh said he wants to continue Wehner’s legacy through acts of kindness within the community.
“So today, to help us continue on his legacy, share a smile with a stranger, make a new friend and collect a business tie,” Judeh said.
Freeman said NIU knows loss all too well and, for many, on Feb. 14, 2008, the community understood the deep and lasting trauma, pain and fear acts of violence spur.
“Seeing the way you lift each other up gives me hope, and I’m so proud to be a part of this community,” Freeman said. “As always, together, we will move forward.”