Before Feb. 15, 2019, the most notable thing about Aurora, Illinois, was its setting for the “Saturday Night Live” spinoff film, “Wayne’s World.” But by 1:24 p.m., it had become the scene of a mass shooting in which five people died and many others were injured.
Understandably, it also became the worst day of Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman’s professional life.
In a talk at the Naples Hilton titled “Mass Shootings and Other Crises: Preparing for and Communicating the Unthinkable,” Ziman told the Press Club of Southwest Florida members about her experience as police chief of Illinois’ second-largest city during the shooting at the Henry Pratt manufacturing plant. In addition to details about how law enforcement responded, Ziman talked about her interactions with journalists and the compatibility of our missions. With cops seeking justice and journalists seeking truth, we’re a powerful combination, she said.
Ziman, who has been tapped as one of nine experts investigating the response to the Uvalde, Texas, mass shooting and serves on the International Mass Violence Advisory Team, narrated a video of the Illinois situation. We heard multiple shouts of “Shots fired!” along with other telling updates from officers on the scene such as “I’m shot — I’m still in the fight!”
For Ziman, who began her career as a cadet in Aurora and rose through the ranks of her hometown department, the events of that day held a particular poignancy. Among lives lost was a human resources intern on his first day of work at the manufacturing plant; Ziman had gone to high school with the young man’s mother.
Despite these close ties, the story Ziman told was never about herself, but rather the community and the officers, six of whom were injured.
She retired in 2021 and moved to Naples. As she states on her website, now that she has hung up her badge, Ziman is “committed to sharing the lessons I’ve learned and wisdom I’ve gained during my 30 years in law enforcement to change the culture of policing, prevent mass shootings, and cultivate leadership in our communities and organizations.” Learn more at kristenziman.com.
Following lunch and her speech, Ziman sold and signed copies of her 2021 memoir, “Reimagining Blue: Thoughts on Life, Leadership, and a New Way Forward in Policing.” Her visit was coordinated by the Press Club’s Tom Marquardt.