Gunman in Illinois mass shooting had been convicted for beating girlfriend with bat
A "disgruntled" employee, who fatally shot five people and wounded five officers at an Illinois warehouse Friday, severely beat a woman years ago in a domestic violence incident that turned him into a felon - and should have kept him from buying a gun.
Two decades before police said Gary Martin, 45, opened fire at his co-workers, he was convicted of aggravated assault in Mississippi. Authorities there said he regularly abused a former girlfriend, at one point, hitting her with a baseball bat and stabbing her with a knife.
"All I can remember is him hitting and kicking me, I can remember fighting and screaming for help. I remember him pushing my head into that brick wall outside the apartment and thinking that he was going to kill me," the woman told police in Mississippi in 1994, according to court records.
The incident led to Martin's arrest. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He then moved to Aurora, Illinois, where he spent 15 years working at a warehouse, where he was able to buy a gun despite his felony record, and where, on Friday afternoon, violence erupted again.
Authorities in the Chicago suburb said Martin was called into a meeting at the Henry Pratt Co. warehouse. After he was told he was being fired, he began shooting, killing the three employees who were at the meeting and two others who were nearby, Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman told reporters Saturday. Among the dead was an intern on his first day at work.
Investigators have said little else that would explain the shooting spree, including why Martin was fired. Police do not know if he knew of his termination and planned the shootout beforehand.
What police say they do know is that Martin showed up at the Henry Pratt Co. warehouse Friday armed with a Smith & Wesson handgun he was carrying illegally. Authorities also revealed Saturday that in January 2014, Martin was able to obtain an Illinois Firearm Owner's Identification Card despite his felony record, which Ziman said would not necessarily have shown up on a criminal-background check conducted before he was issued the card. The card is required to buy guns and ammunition in the state.
Martin also later bought a Smith & Wesson 40-caliber handgun and applied for a concealed carry permit, which required fingerprinting. During that process, officials discovered Martin's felony conviction. His application for a concealed carry permit was rejected and his FOID card was revoked. But there was no indication that authorities confiscated his gun.
The shooting rampage has renewed criticisms that Illinois' laws allow many people to have access to guns even after their FOIDs have been revoked. It carries echoes of the April 2018 shooting at a Waffle House in Tennessee involving a suspect who had obtained a FOID card from Illinois. Travis Reinking, who has been charged in that shooting, had previously been arrested for trying to cross a security barrier near the White House. As a result, Illinois authorities revoked his FOID card, took his guns and gave them to his father. But Reinking later got the weapons back.
"The fact remains is that some disgruntled person walked in and had access to a firearm that he shouldn't have had access to," Ziman told reporters, referring to Martin. "I don't want to make it political. This is a human issue. Lives were lost."
Killed were Clayton Parks, a human resource manager at Henry Pratt; Trevor Wehner, a human resource intern and a student at Northern Illinois University; Russell Beyer, a mold operator; Vicente Juarez, a stock room attendant and fork lift operator; and Josh Pinkard, a plant manager.
Wehner was killed on his first day as an intern at Henry Pratt. In a statement Saturday, Northern Illinois University president Lisa Freeman said Wehner was supposed to graduate in May with a degree in human resource management. Parks, an alumnus of the university, graduated in 2014.
One warehouse employee suffered non-life-threatening gunshot wounds.
The five wounded officers are all expected to survive, police said. The officers, whose names were not released, are between ages 23 and 53. The youngest has been an officer for two years and the oldest for 30 years, authorities said. A sixth officer suffered a minor injury, though it was not caused by a gunshot.
Police were called to the scene just before 1:30 p.m. Friday. Within five minutes, Martin had shot the five officers who arrived at the 29,000-square-foot warehouse. He then hid in the warehouse, and police spent the next hour and a half finding him inside the massive facility. When police found Martin, he fired at the officers, who then killed him, Ziman said.
Aside from his felony, Martin had been arrested six times by Aurora police on traffic and domestic violence issues. He was arrested most recently, in 2017, by police in nearby Oswego, Illi., for disorderly conduct and damage to property, authorities said.
Mississippi court records paint a picture of a disturbed man who frequently abused his former girlfriend, identified then as Chyreese Jones. Jones described Martin as a controlling man who "fakes" his remorse to seek attention. At one point, she told police, Martin held her and her 3-year-old daughter hostage inside their apartment, and threatened to kill her with a box cutter, court records say.
On March 8, 1994, Jones asked Martin, then 20, to pack his belongings at her apartment because she wanted to end the relationship. Martin told Jones that if they were going to end their relationship, they were "going to go out with a bang," she told police at that time.
"'We are all going to die'" Jones told police Martin said. "That's when [he] began to hit me."
He kicked her in the stomach and hit her with the baseball bat, court records say. Jones ran to her neighbors, and police later found her bleeding from several stab wounds, including two deep cuts to her neck.
While in prison, Martin wrote to Jones. In one letter, he appeared to blame others for his problems, telling Jones that "they" were doing everything to keep him incarcerated.
"I don't know how much longer I can keep my thoughts to myself. I've got so much to say but I don't know who to say them to. . . . This pain and hurt is with me day and night and I just can't seem to shake it," Martin wrote.
At the end of the letter, he said, "Give Vozzie a big hug and kiss for me," referring to Jones' daughter.
The shooting in Aurora occurred just a day after the first anniversary of a mass shooting that killed 17 students and staffers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. The young survivors have since become among the loudest advocates for stronger gun laws, spurring a social media movement with the hashtag #NeverAgain. Their activism has led to the creation of the student-led demonstration, March for our Lives.
About 200 people work at Henry Pratt, which is owned by Atlanta-based Mueller Water Products.
"Our hearts are with the victims and their loved ones, the first responders, the Aurora community and the entire Mueller family during this extremely difficult time," the company said in statement.
Aurora shares a name with a Denver suburb that endured a mass shooting almost seven years ago. A gunman, James Holmes, opened fire inside a movie theater in 2012, killing 12 people and injuring 70 others. The similarity was not lost on Nick Metz, the police chief of Aurora, Colo.
"Months from now as people talk about the mass shooting in Aurora, someone will ask, 'Which Aurora mass shooting are we talking about?'" he said on Twitter.
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The Washington Post's Michael Brice-Saddler, Emily Wax-Thibodeaux, Reis Thebault, Mark Berman, Alice Crites and Julie Tate contributed to this report.
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