HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. (WLS) — Witnesses to the deadly parade shooting in Highland Park described a scene of chaos and disbelief.
They said as soon as the gunfire started, people began running for their lives.
Seven people and more than 30 were injured after a shooter opened fire on the parade from a rooftop around 10 a.m. Monday.
Law enforcement said the shooting appeared to be random. Robert “Bobby” E. Crimo, III was identified as a person of interest in the shooting, and was taken into custody at about 6:30 p.m. He is charged with seven counts of first degree murder.
Two days into their marriage, Matt and Brooke Strauss placed their wedding flowers near the scene to honor the victims.
“This is just, it’s tragedy! It’s a tragedy. It’s really hard to be here right now,” Brooke Strauss said.
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Signs of the carnage still lay untouched near the epicenter of the gunfire at Central and 2nd. Parade-goers left their belongings behind as they ran for their lives.
Howard Prayer said while he was trying to evacuate the downtown area, he saw the suspect speeding away.
“I saw the person. I thought it was a woman at first because it was long, dark hair and then I realized that’s the shooter,” he said.
“There are no words to describe what happened yesterday,” said witness Zachary Katznelson. “I was in the front and a few minutes before the shooting happened, I was right where it was. I just feel so lucky. I have some of that luck guilt that it could’ve been me. It could’ve been any of us in the band.”
Several witnesses said they heard multiple shots fired. One witness said he counted more than 20 shots.
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“I thought it was the Navy saluting the flag with rifles but then I saw people running, I picked up my son and started running. I ran to one of the buildings, I tried to break glass into get in with my son and I couldn’t break it,” said Alexander, a witness. “It was horrible. When I went back there were a few people shot on the ground… There was no target… it was shooting whoever.”
“You’re not safe anymore, you’re not going wanna take your kids to a large gathering. And you’re always going to have that. Like when you get a in a car accident, traumatic,” Alexander said.
Grief counselors have been stationed at Highland Park High School to help the community.
“It was definitely beneficial! The therapist gave us strategies such as thinking of that place where we feel at our center, or happy,” Katznelson said.
But the road to healing will likely be a long one.
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One witness said “it looked like a war zone,” and he was almost trampled in the stampede after the shots were fired.
“This should not happen in our country,” Paul Chesler said.
“All I thought about was getting my daughter to safety, I ran with her, we went to the nearest McDonalds and she lost her shoe along the way, she was scared, all I just wanted was her to be safe,” said Armani Garcia. “She was in front of walker brothers, she was gonna come sit next to us. I’ll have the girls cross over. They never made it across. The parade was going on and that’s when everything happened.”
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Dr. Wendy Rush was at the parade and attended to the wounded.
“We heard the gunfire and then it stopped and multiple people, everybody was jumping into action,” Dr. Rush said. “People identified themselves as physicians, as nurses, anyone who could help, had special skills. In our field as an anesthesiologist, we have very specialized skills managing breathing for people. We are very well trained in CPR and advanced life support and starting IVs and people were just helping all over.”
For three hours, Donald Johnson hid in a gas station.
“There were six or seven children crying their eyes out, and the mothers finally got them settled down by singing ‘The Wheels On The Bus Go Round and Round,'” he said.
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State Sen. Julie Morrison said she was about a block away from the shooting.
“We heard gunshots that I kind of thought it was fireworks, then all of a sudden this wave of people starts running back towards us screaming, crying, hysterical, carrying their kids,” Morrison said.
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In the aftermath of the shooting, police patrolled the area with rifles.
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A woman who was at the parade with her family said her best friend’s sister was among those shot.
“People screaming and running, it was just really traumatizing and scary,” she said.
Ariel Rotbol was walking in the parade with a state representative when she heard the gunshots.
“It was a war scene,” Rotbol said. “People just in hysteria. We saw the helicopter, the cars, Homeland Security coming in. In Highland Park, we have not experienced this yet and I don’t think anybody obviously thought this is what was going to happen today and it is just hard to fathom.”
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