By Claire Savage
One year after a shooter terrorized July Fourth paradegoers in Highland Park, community members gathered Tuesday to honor the seven people who were killed, commemorate the day and reclaim the space to move forward.
The city hosted a series of events aimed at giving people an opportunity to heal together. But even as hundreds of residents of the Chicago suburb convened to honor their fallen, singing the National Anthem in unison softly, other U.S. cities were reeling from a fresh spate of gun violence.
Highland Park officials said they approached the event planning with a trauma-informed perspective.
“Nobody wanted a parade. It was inappropriate,” Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering said. “But it was important for us to say that evil doesn’t win. And this is our parade route, and this is our community that we are taking back.”
Hundreds gathered for a Remembrance Ceremony at City Hall that included remarks from Rotering and several spiritual leaders, a musical performance and a moment of silence. Many wore matching blue shirts — the local high school’s color — that read, “We Are Highland Park.”
Attendees then walked last year’s parade route together.
The events offered no floats, performers or giveaways.
Jessica Morales, Kevin Flynn, and their two small children attended the parade last year, and scrambled inside a nearby store when they shooting began. “It was really scary,” Morales said.
They returned this year to pay their respects to the people who died and “not ignore the holiday, but remember what happened, and take the positive,” said Morales, as the couple’s 5-year-old and 1-year-old, decked out in red, white and blue, explored the busy, grassy expanse outside City Hall after the ceremony.
“We just want to keep the memory alive of what happened. It will always be with us. That’s why we come to events like this,” Morales said.
Mietra Namdari walked the half-mile parade route with her three children, 13, 11 and 7, pointing out law enforcement officers positioned on rooftops, as the shooter had been.
“They’re here to keep us safe,” she told her children.
Molly Dillon, 34, grew up in Highland Park and said she missed last year's parade but has attended more than 25 times — “almost every year it wasn’t pouring down rain,” added Dillon’s father, Robert. This year, Molly wore a white T-shirt that said “gun control now.”
“It’s completely normal to walk that parade route. I’ve walked in it, I’ve watched it. And it’s also completely surreal and totally strange because this context is new for us,” Dillon said.
At night, the city planned to have a drone show instead of fireworks to avoid the noise that could sound like gunfire, Rotering said.
“I recognize for so many in our community, it’s too soon.”
Security was tight: Attendees had to register before each event, show a QR code and pass through security.
The day’s events were “a good way to celebrate, but remember, at the same time,” said Flynn, his young daughter in his arms.