Families of Palatine Massacre victims talk

October 21, 2009 (CHICAGO) On Tuesday, James Degorski was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the 1993 murders. His friend and accomplice, Juan Luna, received the same fate in 2007.

After waiting 16 years for justice to be served, the families of victims Marcus Nellsen and Thomas Mennes said they can finally move forward with their lives.

"He'll still get to see his mother. She'll still get to see her son. I'll never get to see my son. Never," said Diane Clayton, Marcus Nellsen's mother. "I'll get by I have to. I have other children and they're what keep me going now."

"It's a long process," said Robert Mennes, Thomas' brother. "The hours of driving back and forth, it wears us out."

Nellsen, 31, was a Navy veteran working his way into management. He was a cook at Brown's Chicken and Pasta. His family said coking was his passion.

"He wanted to be a chef some day. That was his goal before it was taken away from him," said Mary Nunez, Marcus Nellsen's sister.

"Thanksgiving and Christmas," said Clayton, about when she misses her son most. "We all really had a good time. We'd have a really big dinner. Those were the happiest times for me."

Mennes, 32, found comfort at Brown's after working at several fast food restaurants. He and Nellsen were friends.

"He's not there. I'd like to get out of there so we can get back to what we used to do. It's just hard to lose a brother than way," said Robert Mennes.

"It's hard. It's hard for me. I miss my uncle. Memories and stuff but it's hard ... My dad, they were really close and it's hard for me and my sister to see my dad upset like that," said Sarah Mennes, Robert's daughter.

The families of the victims have spent countless hours, energy and emotion tracking the legal proceedings. Now they try to reclaim their lives knowing this case is closed-- but their grieving continues.

"I'll always love him and nothing can ever take that away," said Clayton.

"We never end a conversation without saying we love each other," said Nunez. "You can't take anything for granted. You don't know what tomorrow would bring. We didn't know what it (would) bring for us when we lost my brother."

"It's kind like we're all a family because we're going through the same thing," said Clayton. "We know what each other is going through."

Also killed that night at Brown's Chicken and Pasta in Palatine:

  • Rico Solis, 16, who had just moved with his family from the Philippines. He wanted to be a Marine when he turned 18.
  • Michael Castro, 17, who helped Solis adjust since his family was also from the Philippines. Castro had just fallen in love for the first time.
  • Guadelupe Maldonado, 47, was working more than one job to buy a home for his family. He left three little boys behind.
  • Richard and Lynn Ehlenfeldt bought the restaurant franchise to start a new chapter in their lives. The former church deacon and stay-at-home mom have three daughters. The grandchildren they never met now call them Grandpa and Grandma Angel.
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