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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Dave Johnson was with his son having lunch, a delayed Father’s Day get- together at Los Rancheros’ outdoor tent on the far southwest side last June 26, when it suddenly seemed like “every siren in the city” started going off.
Johnson called his wife, who informed him that there had been a shooting at the Bunn-O-Matic facility on Stevenson Drive.
Johnson said his mind started racing. The pastor at South Fork Church of Christ in Rochester, Johnson said he knew people from the congregation who worked there and wondered about their safety.
Still unaware of the scope of things, Johnson, also a chaplain for the Springfield Police Department, texted Chief Kenny Winslow and Assistant Chief Ken Scarlette. Was there any way he could help out?
“Immediately, I can’t remember which one got back to me, they said they could use me at the reunification center at Magro’s Meats & Produce, just to be there as a support for families,” Johnson recalled.
It was there in a back room that the families of Christopher Aumiller, 25, and William “Bill” Gibbons, 61, both of Springfield, were informed about their deaths by Sangamon County coroner Jim Allmon. A third victim, Marsha Strumpher, 54, of Springfield died at HSHS St. John’s Hospital on the following day, June 27.
A year after the incident, Johnson admitted his heart “still breaks a little bit” for the victims’ families who haven’t been able to get more particular answers about that day.
The Bunn shooting made national headlines and came four months after a brewery employee killed five co-workers at Milwaukee’s Molson Coors campus, then killed himself.
Experts say workplace shootings remain statistically rare, though rampages in Indianapolis on April 15 and in San Jose on May 26 claimed eight people and nine people respectively. In most conventional databases, the Bunn shooting wouldn’t be captured because mass shootings are defined by four or more people being shot or killed, excluding the perpetrator.
The acknowledged gunman, Michael L. Collins, 48, of Springfield, also a Bunn employee, was found dead inside his vehicle in rural Morgan County, about eight miles from Jacksonville, on the afternoon of the shooting.
Johnson, who has been a minister for 35 years, said for him to be invited into that room, “that sanctuary,” with families of the victims was something unforgettable.
“In the midst of that level of pain, I didn’t know of any human way to address it,” Johnson said. “There was a holy moment to it.”
Johnson isn’t the only one who wishes the families had more answers.
Winslow maintained, in a recent interview in his office, that the victims were targeted. Evidence shows that Collins walked by other people to pick out his victims, Winslow said.
A cell phone Collins was using was turned off and never recovered, Winslow said. Collins left no notes behind and no past incidents led police to think there was some ongoing dispute between Collins and the other workers.
Collins’ last brush with the law was in the early 1990s.
“We wanted to be able to answer that for the family, that ‘why,‘” Winslow said. “It was frustrating for the detectives. It was frustrating for the department. I’m sure it was frustrating for the families.
“We’d still love to be able to provide that answer for families.”
City of Springfield officials are working with the families of Aumiller, Gibbons and Strumpher on tree plantings as memorials on property around Lake Springfield within the next couple of weeks, said spokeswoman Julia Frevert.
Scott Lee, senior vice president of human resources at Bunn, said any remembrance of the three workers would be done internally and privately “out of respect for what everybody wanted.” That included, Lee said, the workers’ families.
Bunn will be making Memorial Behavioral Health professionals avail- able to workers on Friday, but “that’s been a con- stant since (the incident),” Lee said.
“It certainly is in the front of our minds every day and it always will be, frankly,” Lee added.
Winslow said the police department’s command staff was at a meeting on focused deterrence at the emergency operations cen- ter in the Municipal Building East when the first call came in about an active shooter a little after 11 a.m.
“You start running through your mind,” Winslow said, “all the preps and all the plans that you’ve got in place and what needs to be done. You could hear the men and women already responding.
“You could hear ‘there’s one down in the parking lot’ on the radio and you know it’s the real deal. You keep hoping when it comes out, it’s wrong, it’s false.”
Responding officers were able to get a name and description of the shooter in fairly short order, Winslow said. Police were getting reports of multiple shots fired in the building as well as outside the building and at that point, Winslow said police didn’t know if there was one shooter or multiple shoot- ers, or the number of vic- tims.
An Illinois State Police report detailed, based on videos and CAD (comput- er -aided design) data, that police were on scene 33 seconds after Collins left the parking lot, said Deputy Chief Joshua Stuenkel.
Collins’ GMC truck was last seen on video east- bound on Stevenson Drive at Palmer Street.
“Where his exact actions took him, we never pin- pointed 100%,” Winslow said.
Any plan, the chief added, probably would not have taken Collins by either of his residences, which were quickly staked out by undercover detectives.
Familiarity may have taken Collins to Morgan County, where he had a cousin, Winslow said, but even an online police case from 1992, a misdemeanor, lists his address as Springfield.
Winslow said both guns found on Collins — one registered to him and one registered to his wife — were linked to the crime scene. Winslow speculated that Collins had two guns so he didn’t have to reload.
Stuenkel said there was no way to tell if Collins had either or both firearms with him earlier or if he grabbed them from his truck during a smoke break closer to the outset of the shootings.
Jaclyn Schildkraut, an associate professor of criminal justice at State University of New York at Oswego and a national expert on mass shootings, said the two most common places for mass shootings are workplaces and schools.
The location in some way is usually symbolic to the shooter, Schildkraut said, for a grievance real or perceived — they were fired from their job or they were bullied or ostracized by their co-workers.
Still, workplace shootings are rare, Schildkraut said. A database compiled by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University found that between 2006 and February 2020, there had been 13 mass work- place shootings carried out by a current or former employee
While the COVID-19 pandemic may have cur- tailed the rate of public mass shootings, “it didn’t drop to zero,” Schildkraut said.
There is always a plan- ning element to the shoot- ing, Schildkraut added, “but the reality is, and I don’t use this context specifically, the best laid plans don’t ever go the way you plan them. They could have a plan, then the gun could jam or no one is there or people respond and get behind locked doors.
“So it doesn’t really matter how long you plan or how well you plan. It’s not going to go according to that plan. The reality is a mass shooter has five minutes or less before the police show up and bring it to an end.”
Although the case is officially closed, Winslow said, time plays a role in investigations such as this.
“We’ve kind of hit this dead end and that’s kind of where we’re at right now,” Winslow said. “Sometimes things change over time and something will come forward.”
For the first 45 minutes or so he was at the reunification point at Magro’s, Pastor Dave Johnson watched “a lot of nervous family members being able to see their loved ones and seeing the relief in their faces.”
When Coroner Allmon arrived, Magro’s supplied the team a room, Johnson said. It was there that Allmon confided with the Aumiller and Gibbons families about the victims’ identities.
A mental health profes- sional from Memorial Behavioral Health and several police officers were also present.
“That’s something,” Johnson said, “I’ll never forget, watching the fami- lies’ reaction, the shock and awe of that. I’ve dealt with crises and those types of things, but never a shooting.”
In both situations, Johnson was able to address the families.
“I remember talking about how none of this makes sense, that they weren’t alone in this,” said Johnson, one of three SPD chaplains. “You’re just trying to give some pastoral support, that was the main thing. Do they even remember anything I said? I’m sure they didn’t.
“It wasn’t real yet. The coroner just tells you your loved one (was taken from you). How do you process that? How do you even begin to process that? What I saw was that once that news was finally delivered (by Allmon), there was the initial reac- tion then there was the now what?
“That’s where I try to step in from the spiritual perspective, just to say you’re not alone in this. There’s a God who loves you. There’s a God who cares. I can’t understand why he would allow this to happen. Nobody can, but all I know is that he has- n’t left us. That’s when we went into prayer and tried to provide some comfort.”
Getting the word of the shooting, in the middle of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, said Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder was “almost like a numbing effect.”
“You hope,” Langfelder said, “you never go through it, but it did show, with the pandemic, how fragile life is and how much we need to embrace one another, especially family and friends.”
Langfelder said a huge part of that consolation was having Arthur “Hy” Bunn, the president and CEO of the corporation, on the scene that day.
“The employees look up to him, the community looks up to him and I think it was important that he did say a few words,” Langfelder said. “Hy Bunn, under the cir- cumstances, rose to the occasion.”
A year later, the victims’ families are at the fore- front of Langfelder’s mind.
“They live that each and every day,” he said. “Their loved one isn’t coming through the door anymore. That’s how we reflect back on it. Nobody should have to go through that.”
Winslow said his thoughts turned to several things, including how the Springfield community came together and the outpouring of support at memorial services, like ones at Centennial Park and Bunn.
“We appreciated then and we still appreciate,” Bunn’s Lee added, “all the support we had from the community that day and forward.”
A list Winslow used to keep count of all the Sangamon County agen- cies, and others, like the FBI and Illinois State Police, was a reminder of who responded that day.
As Saturday approaches, there is a more singular thought for Winslow.
“If anything comes out of all of this, it’s just I want the families to know we haven’t forgotten about them, that someday hopefully we can answer that ‘why,’ and that we pray for them, especially as we get to these anniversaries,” Winslow said. “We think of them and their tragic losses and keep them in their thoughts and prayers.”