David Shapiro and his wife brought their two young children to enjoy the Independence Day Parade in their hometown north of Chicago, snagging a spot in front of a winery.
The Children’s Parade in downtown Highland Park had already passed, with around 50 school-age children riding bicycles, scooters and tricycles. The musicians of the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band, with full drums and a horn section, began playing on a flatbed trailer.
Then came the sound that Shapiro knew was not suitable: pop pop pop pop pop.
Before he knew what was happening, parade-goers from further down the road began running towards the 47-year-old and his family, shouting about someone with a gun.
“It was chaos,” Shapiro recalls. “People didn’t know right away where the shots were coming from, whether the shooter was in front of you or behind you and chasing you.”
For many people, the mass shooting that killed at least seven people and injured more than 30 others adds to the fear that any place, any event in the United States could become dangerous or deadly, although most gun violence is personal. Highland Park is one of the safest cities in the country, and the 4th of July parades are among the most American celebrations. Even before Monday’s killings, some people were already on edge, wondering whether to venture into large gatherings, looking over their shoulders even during the most mundane of activities, from grocery go to school or catch a movie.
But as the shots rang out in Highland Park on Monday, all most in attendance at the 4th of July parade knew first was confusion and then terror as they searched for a safe place to stand. hide or a means of escape.
The atmosphere along the short but crowded parade route was exuberant as the children marched around 9:40 a.m., said Vivian Visconti, a 19-year-old Highland Park District councilor who helped organize and lead the parade. children.
Parents and other attendees smiled and waved at this first group, while Visconti asked young children to keep moving if they slowed down or momentarily strayed from the designated route.
“It was fun and happy and warm,” she recalled of her time in the Central Avenue business district, lined with shops, cafes and restaurants. On either side of the street, attendees sat on blankets and lawn tables, some munching on chips or cookies as they watched.
It took no more than 20 minutes for the children on the bikes to complete the entire parade route, which ended at the bottom of a hill near a park, where a bouncy house was set up for the young people can play after completing the trek.
“We may have been one of the only groups to complete the parade route,” Visconti said.
One of the reasons the little ones went first was so they could run back up the hill and watch the rest of the parade.
Visconti, too, went up the hill, at the other end of Central Avenue, near the Shapiro family. It was around 10:20 a.m. when she heard several slower sounds followed immediately by a rapid secession of what sounded like 20 loud noises, she said.
“I thought it was white people, part of the parade at first,” she said. “But my friend turned to me and said, ‘No, it’s real! “”
After a pause of about five seconds, she heard another rapid round of gunfire. She and her friend ran.
Like most others who heard gunshots, they never saw the shooter, who had scaled an escape route to perch atop a row of specialty stores. As he fired, demonstrators fell, mortally wounded. Many others lay bleeding or had been carried away by family and friends.
Not far from Visconti, 16-year-old Yonatan Garfinkle from Highland Park realized he had to leave fast.
A friend’s dad was driving by in his Jeep. Fifteen other people were already in the vehicle or clinging to it. He also jumped to the side, hugging him tightly as the vehicle drove away from downtown.
The staging of the parade took place on St. John’s Avenue, near a parking lot and a train station. The floats, groups and politicians headed a bit north, then turned west into Central.
Greg Gilberg, 45, was on a float with his wife minutes from the bend when he saw crowds of frightened spectators rolling down the avenue. The man from Highland Park heard no gunshots clearly, but he knew they had to flee. So he and his wife rushed to where he had left his bike nearby; she hopped on her back with him, and Gilberg pedaled home as fast as he could.
As he passed the Highland Park Library, Gilberg said, he saw dozens of people rushing inside for security reasons.
The sound of gunfire was much louder on Central Avenue – the parade’s main thoroughfare – where Richard Isenberg and his wife were watching the parade near a store that sells outdoor gear. Although they couldn’t see who was shooting or where they were, Isenberg could tell from the sound that the shooter was close.
The couple fled, turning around the corner and into a lot full of large dumpsters. They saw a man lifting his children into one of the dumpsters. He asked the Isenbergs to keep an eye on them as he ran down the street for other parents who had come to the parade with him.
The couple returned to the scene on Tuesday to try to recover their car, which was still in an area cordoned off by police investigating the crime. Remembering the deafening sound of gunfire, Isenberg’s wife, who declined to share her name, plugged her ears and closed her eyes.
“I can’t help but hear it,” she said.
Amid the chaos, the shooter, dressed as a woman, slipped through the panicked crowd and, for the moment, escaped.
For Howard Diamond, 45, of Highland Park, attending the Independence Day Parade each year was a family tradition.
He was sitting in a lawn chair with his wife, 9-year-old son and other members of his extended family when he heard a loud bang about 500 feet away. Someone said it was fireworks. But he said he knew better, telling everyone they were down and had to move now.
“Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!” he remembers shouting.
Speaking on Tuesday from outside a police cordon on Central Avenue, he pointed to a child’s blue toy car, overturned amid the pandemonium the day before, claiming it belonged to the son of his beautiful -sister. He had hoped to get his cell phone back, but was told he couldn’t as it was still a crime scene.
The Shapiro family were unsure of the best escape route, so they decided to run to their neighboring house. Shapiro grabbed his daughter in his arms and they ran away as fast as they could, leaving their children’s stroller and lawn chairs behind as they fled. Later that night, her 4-year-old son woke up screaming, Shapiro said as he returned downtown on Tuesday to retrieve items the family had left behind.
“He is too young to understand what happened. But he knows something bad happened,” he said. “It’s frightening.”