‘A place of healing’: Highwood hosts memorial for ‘sister city’ after mass shooting

About 750 people attended the vigil, which provided a “spectrum” of healing — from tears and frustration to laughter — in the wake of the Highland Park mass killing.

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Mourners gather at a vigil Everts Park in Highwood, Illinois, Wednesday, July 6, 2022.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

More than 500 candles were lit during a somber but hopeful vigil in remembrance of Highland Park shooting victims on Wednesday evening in Highwood — its “sister city” to the north.

About 750 people from the North Shore area gathered in Highwood’s Everts Park, an area transformed from the usual site of a farmer’s market into a space for community healing as local religious and government leaders sought to comfort and offer hope to residents in all the neighboring cities.

M. Brad Slavin — a Highwood alderman and the president of Celebrate Highwood, which hosts events in Everts Park — said things would’ve been “much worse” without the ability to connect in person.

“We decided as a group it was best we forgo the market to bring the community together and to grieve together,” Slavin said. “This is something we really do need. … I’m here because I want to feel better.”

Some attendees embraced each other with tears flowing, while others shared laughs in what Highwood Mayor Charlie Pecaro described as a “spectrum” of healing.

“It’s what makes this space so wonderful,” Pecaro said as Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me” played on the speakers and children drew “Highland Park Strong” with chalk on nearby pavement. “Today it needs to be a place of healing.”

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Mourners gather at a vigil Everts Park in Highwood, Illinois, Wednesday, July 6, 2022.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

While the focus of the evening was unity and strength, some also saw the event as a way to voice their demands for change.

Rabbi Michael Sommer of Har-Shalom synagogue, told the crowd he was “tired of praying for change” but reassured the participants that “only together” could people give each other the strength to heal.

Lisa Hirschfield, who moved between the connected communities of Highland Park and Highwood for 35 years, said — though she was glad to be with others who understood her pain — that events like this shouldn’t have to happen.

“I’m just sorry communities keep having to come together like this,” Hirschfield said. “At some point something has to change… you can’t just keep having thoughts and prayers and no real change.”

Residents from other nearby communities joined the event, some expressing frustration that what happened Monday in Highland Park — where seven people were killed and scores of others were injured in a mass shooting — is becoming too common.

“I think it’s more a point of frustration that there are so many people out here grieving and hoping for change,” said Michael DiCocco, a longtime Northbrook resident. “It feels like our hands are tied no matter how we vote. … People who could actually provide change are unwilling to do it. It’s just frustrating.”

Other attendees saw the night as a sign of hope for the North Shore area.

Tory Ziegler, a Highwood resident who brought her 2-year-old daughter to the vigil, said the event inspired optimism in her for the future and that the vigil could help ease the pain of her grieving neighbors in Highland Park.

“There’s a sense of hope now that we’ll come back stronger as a community,” Ziegler said.

According to Pecaro, that’s exactly what he and other organizers had intended for the transformed Everts Park.

“Coming together and finding strength in one another, hopefully it heals some wounds for people,” Pecaro said. “It’s all we can do, heal a little bit at a time.”

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