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Before allegedly killing five of his co-workers, Gary Montez Martin went into his local Circle K convenience store for his almost daily purchase of a few cigars. He seemed fine, according to clerks at the store.
“He came in almost every day and bought two or three Black & Mild cigars,” said Ricardo Moreno, 24, a clerk at a Circle K just blocks from Martin’s apartment.
Moreno said Martin was an engaging, happy customer who made a difference in the life of a clerk at the store. The two would chat about life and work and Moreno would kid Martin about his smoking habit.
Hours after leaving the store Friday, Martin went to his place of work and fatally shot his co-workers and six police officers before he was killed by police who had arrived at a factory in Aurora, Illinois, where the shooting took place, officials said.
Martin, a 15-year veteran of the Henry Pratt Co., was being fired just before the shooting began, according to authorities. Chief Kristen Ziman said in a news conference Friday night that Martin used a Smith & Wesson handgun to shoot his five male co-workers. Police were investigating whether Martin had obtained the gun legally, Ziman said.
Martin allegedly began a gun battle with police officers who arrived within minutes after frantic calls came from within the factory, where he worked as a valve assembler. He then hid inside the cavernous 29,000 square foot factory as police teams searched for him for almost an hour. When they found him, he shot at them and they shot back, killing him, Ziman said.
Martin lived in a large apartment complex about five miles northeast of the factory. Police obtained a search warrant and searched his apartment Friday evening. "At this time, I'm told we didn't find anything," Ziman said.
Half a mile away from his complex was the Circle K store where Moreno worked. The man he interacted with almost daily was cheerful and upbeat.
“Whenever he’d walk into the store, he always had a smile on, honestly,” said Moreno. “In fact, I became an assistant manager because of one of his compliments.”
Moreno began working on the overnight shift at the Circle K about two years ago and would often be finishing up his shift when Martin came in to buy his cigars early in the morning.
“He’d see me scrubbing the floors and cleaning the counters and making fresh coffee,” Moreno said.
Aurora, Illinois, deadly shooting: Fired factory worker killed at least 5 people, authorities say
“We got a new manager, but he wasn’t sure whether I should be promoted or not. And one day Gary came in and told the boss what a good job I did and how hard I worked. He encouraged me and pushed me forward.”
Moreno said his colleagues had seen Martin just that morning and he had seemed fine.
“When I found out that it was him I was taken aback, just because I wasn’t expecting that of him. He was possibly the last guy I thought of shooting up the place,” Moreno said.
The only thing he could think of was that Martin was upset about losing his job.
"I was thinking about him, about what could have set all of this off. I can understand, when you're grown and you're accustomed to your job for 15 years, it’s hard to think about losing it," he said.
Steve Spizewski lived three doors down from Martin at their apartment complex and said he frequently stopped to chat with Martin, who was often outside playing with drones or remote control cars. Spizewski was on his way to work Friday afternoon when he saw multiple police cars speeding in the opposite direction, and wondered if something had happened at the local outlet mall, which is located across the highway from their apartment complex. When he heard what Martin had done, he couldn't believe it.
"I can't say I knew him as one of my greatest friends, but we always talked, and I'd sit on his porch, have lunch once in a while," Spizewski said. "He liked to play with his remote control cars and his drones, liked to work on his car, a tricked out Nissan."
Spizewski said he was angry with reports that neighbors implied to media outlets that they weren't surprised by Martin's actions. Spizewski wondered if those people were making assumptions about Martin solely because of his skin color.
"Gary was a black man, but big freaking deal," Spizewski said. "You can't judge someone by how they look ... Gary might have been a tough-looking guy, but I never saw him as a mean guy.
"But what he did, that's not right at all. I feel for everybody involved ... and I feel awful for his mom."
Spizewski said he recently lost his own mother, and that Martin "was one of the comforting souls for me."
Spizewski last saw Martin on Wednesday afternoon, when they passed each other outside and traded small talk about the weather. He said he did not recall Martin ever mentioning guns, or saying he owned any. Spizewski also said that if Martin was struggling at work, he didn't share that.
"I considered him a friend but what he did, it's terrible," Spizewski said. "I'm still in shock."
Officials from Mueller Water Products, the parent company of Henry Pratt Co.,issued a statement Friday to media outlets about the shooting.
“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 statement said. “Our entire focus is on the health and well-being of our colleagues, and we are committed to providing any and all support to them and their families.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Who was Gary Martin? Alleged Illinois gunman seemed fine hours before killing co-workers