Northern Illinois University copes with the loss of student, alumnus

Campus mourns Trevor Wehner, Clayton Parks; vigil planned Thursday

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Not one week after memorializing five students killed in a 2008 campus shooting, the Northern Illinois University community is again reeling from the deaths of two more Huskies, and many are remembering the inspiring individuals who were poised to "improve the world."

Trevor Wehner, 22, of Sheridan, was set to graduate from NIU's human resources management program in May. Clayton Parks, 32, of Elgin, was a proud 2014 graduate of NIU's College of Business. They were killed in a workplace shooting at the Henry Pratt Company in Aurora on Friday. It was Wehner's first day on the job as an HR intern for the company, where Parks was the HR manager. Josh Pinkard, 37, of Oswego, Russell Beyer, 47, of Yorkville, and Vicente Juarez, 54, of Oswego, were also killed during the shooting that also injured six Aurora police officers.

Dennis Barsema, chairperson of the NIU Board of Trustees and former business professor, taught Parks multiple times in NIU's social entrepreneurship program.

"(Parks) not only just cared about making himself the best person he could be, but he cared deeply about making everyone around him better as a result," Barsema said in a phone interview Tuesday. "I have no doubt that if (Parks) could have been allowed to live his life out, he would have found multiple ways to improve our world and make this world a better place."

Wehner was following in the footsteps of fellow Huskie Parks working for HR at Henry Pratt. Wehner was included in a meeting Friday in which an employee was being terminated. That meeting turned tragic when employee Gary Martin, the subject of the termination, opened fire in the room.

Barsema said it's hard to wrap his head around any life taken through violence. He taught Parks and remembered him as a nontraditional student who wanted to do more.

"The world lost a great one when we lost (Parks)," Barsema said. "I talk to students a lot about 'if you just do your job description, you're an average employee. You need to find ways to exceed your job description and stand out,' and (Parks) was a great example of that."

Barsema recalled fondly the first time he had Parks in his class. Parks was one of the first students to go through NIU's social entrepreneurship curriculum, with Barsema and fellow instructor Dr. Christine Mooney, professor of social entrepreneurship.

"He asked if he could sit down and have coffee with me, so we went down into the atrium of Barsema Hall after class one day and chatted for about an hour and a half," Barsema. "And he just shared with me that after being in that class for several weeks, he felt he had found purpose. He had found that thing he wanted to do in his life to give it purpose, so he just asked for my help and mentoring during his journey."

Mooney said she was still processing the news of Parks' death, and had visited with him in May 2018 when Parks returned to campus for an alumni luncheon.

"(Parks) was a wonderful human being," Mooney said. "He just had a preciseness as a human, in all the different ways: kindness, consideration, leadership. He was committed. He made hard decisions, and had that kindness and empathy that went with it."

Terry Bishop, associate professor in NIU's College of Business, taught both Wehner and Parks.

"(Wehner) was in three of my classes, and he was an absolute joy to have as a student," Bishop said in a statement Tuesday. "He was very well liked by both his fellow students and the faculty. He had a smile on his face every day and always had a positive, easy-going disposition. He often came round faculty offices just to say hello, and I will never forget how great it was to see that smile of his."

Wehner also was a graduate of Serena High School, where his basketball coach Dain Twait described Wehner as an individual who did all the right things.

Wehner was a senior during Twait's first year as head coach in 2014-15 and his leadership set an example for the program.

"He came ready to practice, he didn't take any off," Twait said in a phone interview Saturday afternoon. "He was always joking and goofing around, keeping a fun atmosphere.

" ... You'd be hard pressed to find anyone that said a bad thing about him."

"(Wehner) was interested in the human resource profession because he felt he could make a difference for both organizations and employees," Bishop said. "He had a special capacity to help people make decisions and solve problems."

The Aurora shooting came just one day after the Huskie community gathered outside Cole Hall to remember the victims of the Feb. 14, 2008 shooting: Catalina Garcia, 20, Daniel Parmenter, 20, Ryanne Mace, 19, Julianna Gehant, 32, and Gayle Dubowski, 20.

Grappling with a tragedy of this nature is something that, by cruel happenstance, is not new to NIU.

Brooke Ruxton, executive director of Student Counseling and Consultation Services, was hired by the university not long after the 2008 shooting. She keeps faith that the strength of the NIU community will pull itself together.

"When I came to NIU, I joined a community that was grieving," Ruxton said. "What I saw then is really the same thing I see today: no matter the scale of the event, this is a community that comes together and supports on another through the most difficult times. Our faculty, staff and students look out for one another, they provide a space to grieve, and they lean on each other for support. I saw that 11 years ago, and I've seen it ... this week."

President Lisa Freeman echoed Ruxton's sentiments in her own statement Saturday, saying "loss like this is devastating and senseless."

Ruxton and her crew of 18 counselors are on hand for students, faculty and staff in need and encouraged people to check in with them and others.

A vigil is planned Thursday for Parks and Wehner in the Regency Room of the Holmes Student Center on the NIU campus. Doors open at 5 p.m., and the vigil will start at 5:15.