New memorial for Highland Park shooting victims offers ‘peace and respite’

The temporary memorial garden was created next to Highland Park city hall as plans for a permanent fixture are put off while survivors of the shooting recover.

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Highland Park mayor Nancy Rotering hugs Bruce Sundheim, the husband of Jacki Sundheim, one of the victims of the Highland Park shooting, in front of the temporary memorial opened Nov. 11, 2022.

Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering hugs Bruce Sundheim, the husband of Jacki Sundheim, one of the victims of the Highland Park shooting, in front of the temporary memorial Friday.

Zack Miller/Sun-Times

A memorial for the victims of the July 4th shooting in Highland Park opened Friday, four months after tragedy struck the community. 

The temporary memorial, at 1707 St. Johns Avenue, is a garden next to city hall and just blocks away from where other temporary memorials were set up by residents in the immediate wake of the shooting.

Seven plaques, each with the name of a victim, words and a photo chosen by their families, stand in front of a garden.

Beyond the tribute to the victims is a bed of painted rocks created by “young families” to show “how we can support each other” in the community, according to Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering. 

The mayor said this addition was welcomed by victims’ families, who wanted the memorial to represent more than the shooting. 

“It was important to the [victims’ families] to reflect on the life that they lived and not the means by which that life ended,” Rotering said. 

The city announced plans for a permanent memorial are in the works. Rotering said the first meetings will take place in late January so victims will have more time to recover and be able to participate.

“We’ve learned as a community that this is a very complex step forward,” Rotering said. “It’s got to understand the very multilayered group of folks who were affected by this tragedy and are now trying to put one foot in front of the other.”

Annette Lidawer, a Highland Park city council member walks alongside Highland Park mayor Nancy Rotering, who wipes away a tear after leaving calla lilies, what she described as “simple and beautiful” flowers, at the temporary memorial for the victims of the Highland Park shooting Nov. 11, 2022.

Annette Lidawer, a Highland Park City Council member, (left) walks with Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering on Friday at the temporary memorial for the victims of the Highland Park shooting.

Zack Miller/Sun-Times

Diane Gorman — a clinical social worker with Family Service of Lake County, located blocks away from where the shooting occurred — was one of the first members of the public to enter the rose garden Friday morning. 

She said the rose garden works well to serve the different needs of people suffering from trauma because they can grieve and reflect together without having to directly interact. 

“Community is one of the things that can help people, but there’s a tendency to isolate with trauma,” Gorman said. “That doesn’t mean they won’t appreciate people putting down a flower or just being here together.”

SOUL Harbour Ranch, an animal therapy program that helped victims in the aftermath of the shooting, was also at the event with two therapy horses named Cinderbella and Charmer as well as Marshall, a 4-year-old golden retriever. 

SOUL Harbour Ranch representatives, Anne Arroyo and Sue Manning, pose next to therapy horses Cinderbella and Charmer at the opening of a temporary memorial for the victims of the Highland Park shooting Nov. 11, 2022.

SOUL Harbour Ranch representatives Anne Arroyo (left) and Sue Manning with therapy horses Cinderbella and Charmer at the opening of a temporary memorial for the victims of the Highland Park shooting.

Zack Miller/Sun-Times

About the memorial, Rotering said, “For the immediacy, I want people to have a place of peace and respite. But if you look at those plaques, those are seven people who won’t be at Thanksgiving, seven people who should not have been murdered this way …. This isn’t a way to live.”

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