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Aurora victim had helped gunman get job back, ‘died trying to set it straight’

Mourners pay their respects at a memorial for the five people killed two days earlier in a mass shooting at the Henry Pratt Company in Aurora, Sunday afternoon, Feb. 17, 2019. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Mourners pay their respects at a memorial for the five people killed two days earlier in a mass shooting at the Henry Pratt Company in Aurora, Sunday afternoon, Feb. 17, 2019. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Russell Beyer had a “big heart” and tried his best to make his office a better place, his dad said.

That’s why the 20-year mold operator and union chairman sat in on Gary Martin’s termination meeting Friday afternoon at the Henry Pratt Company.

The meeting started with Martin — whose job Beyer had already helped win back two months earlier — getting fired for the second time.

It ended with Martin killing almost everyone in the room, including Beyer, authorities said.

“He was a hard worker, just like I was,” his father Ted Beyer said. “I loved him… We were close. He was my first kid.”

Russell Beyer had followed in the footsteps of his father, 71, a previous union chairman who worked at Henry Pratt for four decades.

So while Ted and his 46-year-old son enjoyed camping, fishing and swimming together — usually at Taylorville Lake in central Illinois — the father-son duo often talked shop, discussing the latest union happenings.

Most recently, they discussed Martin’s situation with the company — an issue the older man was familiar with as well.

Ted Beyer himself had also vouched for Martin in grievance meetings with management, and had grown to be acquaintances with the man who would later kill his son.

Though angry that Martin killed his son, he suggested built-up frustration with the company led to Friday’s attack.

“It’s real easy to sit there and blame him,” Beyer said. “You work for the company 15 years and there’s no justice because there’s games being played between the union and the company. It’s a shame when they have to desecrate somebody like that instead of getting down to the root cause.

“My son died trying to set it straight,” Beyer added.

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Scott Hall, the president and CEO of the parent company of Henry Pratt, said Saturday that Martin was being fired for a “culmination of various workplace rules violations” — though none of them indicated he could be violent. He made no mention of a previous attempt to fire Martin.

Ted Beyer remembered a kind, caring Martin. A man who, after Ted Beyer had back surgery, brought him coffee and went with him on a walk.

Still, that doesn’t take away Ted Beyer’s pain of losing his oldest of three children, who had two adult children of his own.

“Anybody who knew him knew he had a big heart,” Ted Beyer said of his son.

“I just recently lost my sister and now this and, you know, it hurts. It’s just like somebody reached in there and took your heart out.” Beyer added. “It’s been hell all day.”

Contributing: Sam Charles