Editor’s note: This story includes, behind a click-to-view warning, one photo of some of the victims killed in the Highland Park mass shooting. Here’s our reasoning for why we’ve run it. Please view with caution.
You know why I’m writing this.
I was at the Highland Park Fourth of July parade.
Not as the Sun-Times Washington bureau chief. As a civilian. I’m staying with my sister over this holiday. She lives in Highland Park, which is approximately 25 miles north of Chicago’s downtown. More than 30,000 people live there.
I just wanted to go to this parade and enjoy the day. Hang out with friends. Maybe after the parade, go to one of the stunning Lake Michigan beaches that hug this North Shore suburb. Or maybe have a swim at the Highland Park pool, next to the fire station. That fire station transformed into an emergency operations center after the unimaginable — is this a cliché? — happened.
In a matter of seconds, a sniper — using a high-powered, rapid-fire weapon — slaughtered six people and wounded dozens of others as the parade made its way down Central Avenue in downtown Highland Park.
The parade started about 10 a.m. I’m at the start of the route.
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Leading off the parade were fire engines from Highland Park, sirens blaring in a good way — before the world changed in this suburban city at 10:14 a.m., when the sniper started shooting from a rooftop.
There was a color guard — four sailors, two with rifles on their shoulders. Soon after that, the Highland Park City Council marched, led by Mayor Nancy Rotering — who a few minutes after she passed me would be dealing with a massacre on what was supposed to be a day of celebration.
The blue-shirted members of the Highland Park High School band stepped off playing “You’re a Grand Old Flag.” Then the marchers from the League of Women Voters from Highland Park and Highwood.
It was all so delightfully normal.
Then it wasn’t.
I was watching and listening to the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band perform on top of a flatbed truck when I saw people running away from Central Avenue. “A shooter,” someone said. I saw terrified people run into an underground garage, looking for safety from the bullets.
As people were fleeing the scene, I hustled toward it. Please don’t make a big deal that I did it. I’m a reporter.
I saw, frozen in time, what people left when they fled. So many baby carriages. Folding chairs. Backpacks. Water bottles. Towels. Blankets. Police were asking people to leave the active shooting scene.
As I approached Port Clinton Square, by the reviewing stand, I saw a woman down. I don’t know if she was dead or alive. Two people were leaning over her. I saw another woman on the ground.
Then, near a bench in the square, I came upon a pool of blood, ruby red blood. There was so much blood, that the blood puddle was lumpy because so much already coagulated. The shape of the blood — was this a twisted Rorschach test? — looked like a handgun to me.
I’m going into this gruesome detail because this is what gun violence from a rapid-fire weapon with an apparent high capacity magazine looks like. My sister, Neesa, on Central near the railroad tracks, heard two sequences of rapid fire. The pause is likely when the shooter switched out magazines.
I saw my first body of the day. A blanket covered the top of the man. His shorts were soaked with blood. His legs were bloody and blood was still flowing out of him. Two more bodies were on the steps leading into Port Clinton. Thankfully, someone threw blankets over their torsos.
Editor’s note: When Washington Bureau Chief Lynn Sweet arrived on the scene of the Highland Park shooting moments after it had occurred, she took photos on her phone that included pictures of victims who had been shot to death. We spent hours — more than a day — considering whether or not to run them. In the end, we decided that the strong public interest in documenting one of the worst mass shootings in Illinois history, at a time when mass shootings are on the rise and violent crime and gun violence rank among Americans’ top five concerns, made this photo an important image. We believe it shows the incredible toll that a shooter with a high-powered rifle was able to exact in mere seconds.
As journalists, it is our job to inform our community so our readers can more fully understand what’s happening around them, and make important decisions as part of the democratic process. We also wanted to minimize the harm, and the invasion of privacy, to the victims’ families as much as possible. For now we’ve decided to run just one image, in which victims’ faces are covered, and to use it in the most limited way possible – cropping the photo to show less of one victim’s exposed body, reducing the resolution and preventing the image from being downloaded. We also don’t plan to use this photo repeatedly, but believe it is important to publish here as part of the public record — and part of our continuing coverage of public policies around crime and guns, as well as the underlying causes of violence. You can read more about why we ran this photo here.