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    Family wants justice after Spring Bay man beaten in 'terrifying' mistaken identity case

    By Zach Roth, Peoria Journal Star,

    2024-06-10

    https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=1LuzGh_0tmITDXU00

    Late on the evening of April 24, Kristina Bencher was at work in Spring Bay when she received a panicked phone call.

    Catherine Judah, girlfriend of Bencher's son, Aaron, began to hurriedly relay what had just happened.

    "She frantically called me and said, 'These three guys busted in the house, were calling him Dylan and just started hitting him,'" Bencher said. "He was trying to tell them, 'I'm not Dylan,' and they just started kicking him down to his ankles, kicking his face in (and) busted his head off the coffee table. All of this was said to me in 30 seconds."

    Aaron Bencher was not the target of the assailants' attack, yet he suffered serious injuries in the encounter. His mother quickly left and headed to OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria, where she found her son covered in blood.

    "My husband had to catch me; I almost collapsed," Kristina Bencher said. "Never in my life had I thought I would see my son like that."

    On that night, she experienced the kind of thing that no mother ever wants to live through: someone breaking into their child's home and injuring them. The Woodford County Sheriff's Office arrested one suspect, Michael Green, later that evening, but two still remain at large.

    Aaron Bencher is recovering, back at work but still shaken to the point where he and his girlfriend no longer live in their Spring Bay home. Even over a month after the home invasion, Kristina Bencher still has questions that she wants answered and is currently looking for justice for her son.

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    A case of mistaken identity

    A report obtained by the Journal Star from the Woodford County Sherrif's Office gives a clearer picture of what happened that evening. A deputy said that Judah had reported a possible home invasion around 10:09 p.m. She said three people had entered the home and began beating up Aaron, causing bleeding from both his nose and his mouth.

    The suspects then left in a white sedan, with Judah telling deputies that one of them was a white male with a bald head.

    When police arrived, they found blood near the front door and the kitchen, with Aaron sitting on the couch mending his injuries. Judah told the deputies that they heard banging from the front door, and Aaron opened the door to see three men at the entrance. The group then proceeded to beat him for several minutes before leaving.

    Aaron was lucid enough to provide a statement to deputies, saying that he didn't know any of the suspects and confirmed that each man was white and around 30 years old. He also confirmed that the suspects called him "Dylan."

    Aaron said in an interview with the Journal Star that the three men were only in the home for a short time before they left. It took intervention from Judah before they fled the scene.

    "My girlfriend came out and told them to stop," Aaron said. "She's eight months pregnant. She said, 'I'm pregnant, you need to stop! You have the wrong guy, please get out of our house.' They all ran out."

    Aaron said that he sustained a fractured left leg along with two fractures in his right leg and a broken nose. At the hospital, he witnessed the emotion of his parents as they saw his injuries, both their shock and their relief.

    "(Mom) was very distraught about it," Aaron said. "She definitely maintained herself very well. She came up and gave me a hug and said, 'I'm glad you're conscious and doing OK.' My dad did the same thing, (he) patted me on the head and said, 'Thank God you're all good.'"

    While Aaron and his family were at the hospital, deputies got a tip regarding one of the people alleged to be in the home at the time — a man by the name of Michael Green, who supposedly was the boyfriend of a woman who lived two doors down from Aaron and Judah.

    The female tipster told authorities that she and Green had gotten into an argument that ended up spreading to her mother, with Green making threats against both people. She also received a text message from Judah shortly after the beating that suggested Green may have had something to do with the incident.

    More: 'It's just terrifying': West Peoria family reeling after house, car sprayed with bullets

    In addition, she told deputies that Green could be the jealous type and told them about an ex-boyfriend she had, whose name was Dylan.

    She then informed them that Green had been staying at the MillPoint RV Park with a work truck that he drove. While they couldn't find the truck, police were able to find and interview Green, who confirmed that he, his girlfriend and her mother argued, but denied that he was involved in the home invasion and beating.

    Green told police that he had left the woman's home because he needed to get up early for work, but didn't return to his camper at MillPoint. He said that he was visiting his hospitalized father and said that he didn't feel like going back after the argument.

    Soon thereafter, police arrested Green in connection to the incident with Aaron Bencher and charged him with home invasion, a Class X felony. The Woodford County state's attorney also charged him with two other felonies: aggravated battery and criminal trespassing to a residence.

    Green is currently being held in the Woodford County Jail after a request to detain him before trial was approved during a hearing on May 2. A trial has been set for August 19, but that date is subject to change.

    An uneasy feeling

    Still, two of the suspects remain at large. Both Aaron and his mother know what at least one of them looks like: a relatively tall man with facial tattoos.

    With that in mind, a sense of unease sits with Kristina Bencher every day. For her, a place that was once quiet and safe is now no longer comfortable for her or her son. He had to move and live with Judah's mother.

    "Are they going to come after our family? Are they going to try and shut him up because Michael Green is in jail and the other two don't want to go to jail? Are they going to come for us and try to shut up our son? It's terrifying," Kristina Bencher said.

    https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=0jp0jK_0tmITDXU00

    Aaron Bencher no longer feels as if he can be safe living alongside people who may have had these kinds of ties, knowing that without his girlfriend's intervention, they may not have stopped.

    He said that he was afraid that the other two involved – and other associates – may want to target him at some point in the future.

    "I could 100% see something happening because I got his friend (Michael Green) in trouble," Aaron Bencher said.

    That unease has also led to a little bit of frustration on Kristina Bencher's part. She's not worried about whether or not Spring Bay is safe – she's confident that the close-knit community will have her back if anything bad were to happen in the future. But she's worried about her son, his growing family and whether or not the other two men who attacked him might come for them.

    "It's not Spring Bay; it's these two people that are still at large," Kristina Bencher said. "Spring Bay, itself, I know that my kids and everyone around are protected. It really is a beautiful town. It's got the bad seeds like every other town, but when push comes to shove, the people of this town really do protect each other."

    She would feel a sense of relief if the other two people ended up being found, but she remains uncertain as to how exactly she would describe them if someone were to ask if they could help find them.

    "I honestly don't know," Kristina Bencher said. "It would be really nice to be able to find (out) who the other two really are."

    More: 'I thought I would stay here until I die': Peoria woman moving after shooting in her yard

    On the road to recovery

    Aaron Bencher remains in good spirits despite the overarching uncertainty that still remains nearly two months after the incident. He's back at his job at Versa Press, an East Peoria-based commercial printer that specializes in printing and binding books for a wide range of companies.

    His schedule has been adjusted to allow him to recuperate from the injuries he suffered, with his mother noting that he's switched departments in order to not be on his feet so often.

    Aaron Bencher and his family have also had to deal with other serious health issues after the home invasion. A few days after the incident, Judah, who is eight months pregnant with her first child, had to be hospitalized after her blood pressure spiked.

    "She was really stressed out by the situation," Aaron Bencher said.

    But he has been thankful for the outpouring of support from others. A GoFundMe has also been established to help the couple.

    "It's hard to keep your head up," Aaron said. "I feel like my friends and family were really there (to) help through that."

    Most importantly, he's on the lookout for a newer, safer place to be. While he doesn't want to go back to the neighborhood where the incident occurred, he's not looking to leave Spring Bay. Rather, he wants a place where he can grow his family with Judah – a two-or-three-bedroom home with room to expand.

    "Since we have a baby on the way, eventually we're going to expand and add space in the house," Aaron said. "I still feel safe in the Spring Bay area because I have a lot of family there, but I just don't want to live near those trailers and where that happened to me at."

    More: State's attorney reviewing case after Illinois police officer killed boy, man in domestic call

    This article originally appeared on Journal Star: Family wants justice after Spring Bay man beaten in 'terrifying' mistaken identity case

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