WAUKEGAN, Ill. — More than 100 people gathered Friday along a chain-link fence outside a badly damaged Illinois silicone factory to remember four men who died in an explosion at the facility. The mourners at AB Specialty Silicones factory in Waukegan included friends, relatives and co-workers of the men whose bodies were pulled from the rubble over the last week after the May 3 blast. Four wreaths of white flowers were placed on stands while people hugged and cried.

Those killed included Daniel Nicklas, 24, of Beach Park, Ill., and three Kenosha County residents: Byron H. Biehn, 53, of Brighton; Jeff Cummings, 57, of Kenosha; and Allen Stevens, 29, of Salem Lakes.

The explosion is under investigation. Fire officials have said they believe it was the result of an accident in factory processes.

Speakers on Friday included Waukegan Mayor Sam Cunningham, Fire Chief George Bridges Jr. and Lake County Coroner Howard Cooper, who said the service was about healing, but added: “I cannot lie; it’s hard.”

Company General Manager Mac Penman said he plans to rebuild and reopen the facility.

“We have lost our friends and colleagues,” Penman said. “But the families have lost fathers, sons, husbands and brothers.”

Meanwhile, Waukegan city spokesman David Motley said the blast affected seven nearby buildings. The owners of the buildings have been asked to complete independent structural analyses of the properties.

“Unfortunately, not all of them are OK,” Motley said.

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On Wednesday, U.S. Reps. Bryan Steil, R-Wis., and Brad Schneider, D-Ill., released a joint statement regarding the explosion. Steil represents Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District, which includes Kenosha County, and Waukegan is in Illinois’ 10th Congressional District, which Schneider represents.

The statement read:

“Our Kenosha and Waukegan communities are hurting. The terrible explosion that occurred on May 3 at AB Specialty Silicones factory claimed the lives of three individuals and a search is ongoing for one individual who remains missing. Our prayers are with the friends and families of Jeff Cummings, Byron Biehn, and Allen Stevens of Kenosha County.

“As we begin to learn more about that day and the heroic actions taken to save others, we are reminded of the sacrifices made by our first responders. Their prompt response helped extinguish the fire and save lives. Day in and day out, emergency professionals risk their lives to save others.

“In the coming days and weeks, we will work together to offer care to those affected by this tragedy, and support the work of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board to identify the cause of the disaster.”

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Assistant Managing Editor

Pete Wicklund is the local editor for The Journal Times.

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