HIGHLAND PARK, Illinois — Highland Park’s Veterans Memorial Park now also serves as a gathering place to honor the innocent people shot and killed in the street during the city’s Fourth of July parade.
Wooden hearts with the name of each victim stand surrounded by flowers, candles, and messages. Another heart was added Wednesday afternoon for Eduardo Uvaldo, a grandfather from Waukegan, identified as the seventh victim.
Steve Tilkin was at the parade with his grandchildren, just a few feet from where some people died.
“Our granddaughter is 13, and went through active shooter training in grade school,” Tilkin said. “All of a sudden, she hit the ground crying and took her brother down with her. My wife jumped on top of her, then I stood briefly looking at where the shooter was coming from. I was still in a state of confusion and disbelief as I tried to cover all of them. Then, I realized there are no barricades. There is nothing protecting us, and one bullet could go through all of us, so when the shooting subsided briefly, I told them that we need to run to the store.”
They hid in the store’s basement with others. At one point, police came down searching for the shooter.
“It was like one of those eerie TV sequences where officers have their weapons drawn and are clearing each corner as they enter,” Tilkin said. “A few of the people hiding in the basement with us had been grazed by bullets. The fear was palpable.”
Melissa Cannata was watching the parade in the same area with her husband, five-year-old daughter and two-year-old son.
“At first, a lot of people mistook the sound for fireworks, but I knew it was not fireworks,” Cannata said. “I looked up and saw the shooter. I saw bullets coming out of the gun. My first instinct was to just grab my kids and run.”
She cannot help but think of Irena and Kevin McCarthy who died protecting their two-year-old son.
“Knowing it could have been us is the hard part keeping me up at night,” Cannata said. “I had my son in my arms. I was watching my daughter in front of me. It's a miracle we're alive."
Cannata, Tilkin, and so many others left processing the trauma, are finding some sort of comfort or solidarity in being at the memorial together. Many were sitting in silence, others were holding hands, hugging, and praying.
“I heard some firecrackers in the middle of the night last night, and it made me shake in terror,” Tilkin said. “It’s the sheer horror that sticks with you. What makes somebody so evil? No child, no adult should have to experience this.”
“I needed to walk these streets again,” said Emily Ace, whose family was also at the parade and ran for cover. “I still live here, and I felt I needed to be here at this memorial today. I brought flowers from my backyard for each victim. It’s one small thing I can do.”
Psychologists and counselors from all over the area are donating their time and making themselves available at Highland Park High School for anyone who needs help processing the tragedy. Many community members dropped off food, stuffed animals, art supplies and other things to help people heal.