HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. – It was 10:17 am July 4 Central Time when Shelly Sella’s cell phone rang. She remembers the time accurately.
What he heard, was his daughter, Lauren, he will never forget.
“Screaming, ‘There’s a shooter, there’s a shooter, you have to come get us, you have to come get us,’” Sella recalled.
“There is no mother on planet Earth, I don’t care how old your child is, who wants to receive that call.”
Lauren and her friend Amanda Levy, who was visiting from Connecticut, were at the Fourth of July parade Monday in the posh Chicago suburb of Highland Park when shots rang out.
“I think I passed out,” said Levy, 28, as he described seeing some of the floats in the parade stop unexpectedly.
“I was confused. And then we saw the gang running down the sidewalks. And that’s when I looked at (Lauren) and we saw a police officer running in the opposite direction.”
Seven people were killed and 38 injured Monday when a lone gunman, perched on a roof and disguised in women’s clothing, opened fire on spectators as they watched the Fourth of July parade pass through the suburban downtown.
At the intersection of Central Ave. and Green Bay Rd., where journalists and locals mingled uncomfortably Tuesday in what is becoming an awkward American ritual, remnants of an abandoned national holiday were still on display.
Flipped folding chairs, miniature flags fluttering in the breeze and a child’s pink bicycle were still visible behind police barricades, a testament to the moment when the community’s festive and patriotic fervor dissolved into abject panic.
A collection of flowers and handwritten expressions of grief grew steadily throughout the afternoon as residents and visitors stopped at the scene, stepping over a gauntlet of police tape to pay their respects.
Sella and Levy were part of the crowd of onlookers who cheered with relief Tuesday as prosecutors announced seven counts of first-degree murder against Robert E. Crimo III, the alleged perpetrator.
Crimo, 21, faces the prospect of life in prison without the possibility of parole, as well as “dozens” of more likely charges, Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart said.
Authorities also released the identities of six of the seven victims: Katherine Goldstein, 64; Irina McCarthy, 35; Kevin McCarthy, 37; Jacquelyn Sundheim, 63; and Stephen Straus, 88, all of Highland Park; and Nicolás Toledo-Zaragoza, 78, from Mexico.
Christopher Covelli, a spokesman for the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force, said police first responded to Crimo’s home in April 2019 after learning he had attempted suicide a week earlier.
The next interaction occurred in September of that year, when a relative reported that Crimo had a collection of knives and that he was threatening to “kill everyone”. No charges or complaints were filed.
Crimo legally purchased five firearms, including the rifle used in the attack and one found in a vehicle with him when he was arrested, as well as pistols and other firearms seized from his father’s home.
The violence in Highland Park came just six weeks after a deadly attack at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, killed 19 children and two teachers, shocking but not surprising a country now completely inundated with a staggering power of fire.
Covelli said the suspect planned the attack for several weeks and was wearing women’s clothing to hide his facial tattoos and blend in with the crowd as he fled the scene.
He said the shooter, armed with a high-powered rifle, used a fire escape to climb onto the roof of a business along the parade route before firing more than 70 rounds into the crowd.
When it was over, the attacker allegedly abandoned his rifle and fled, blending into the crowd as if he were an “innocent bystander.”
Police have no information that it was religiously or racially motivated, Covelli said, describing the attack as “completely random.”
“What should have been a celebration of freedom has ended in despair for our community,” Rinehart said, with a battery of officials, investigators and police behind him.
“All the people who died steps away from here lost their freedom, all of it, every ounce of freedom they had. The freedom to love, the freedom to learn and the freedom to live a full life.
“Your freedom matters too.”
These days, in the country known for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that freedom may well include leaving for good.
“I don’t like this world we live in at all,” Sella said.
“I have serious concerns about where we have been, where we are going. And honestly, I’ve contemplated several times recently leaving this country.”
So has Jim Perlman, a lifelong Highland Park resident who said he’s not alone in considering his options.
“The way the momentum is going, a lot of people are talking about it and people want to leave,” said Perlman, whose apartment is less than two blocks from where the shooting took place.
“They don’t feel safe. Children don’t feel safe in schools… it’s like a snowball rolling down a hill and getting worse and worse.”
Where would they go? Sella said she has family in Israel, a country with its own reputation for violence, “but it’s more predictable,” she said.
“This is how it looks, how it feels to live in Israel.”
As for Perlman, he’s thinking closer to home.
“Everyone talks about Canada,” he said. We may be up there.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 6, 2022.
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