Highland Park residents sorting through emotions, counting blessings three days after parade shooting

In downtown Highland Park, colored chalk brightened the drab pavement with messages of hope and resilience.

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A mourner bows his head at a memorial site at the corner of Central and St Johns avenues in downtown Highland Park, Wednesday evening, July 6, 2022. A gunman killed seven people and wounded dozens more by firing an AR-15-style rifle from a rooftop onto a crowd attending Highland Park’s Fourth of July parade.

A mourner bows his head at a memorial site at the corner of Central and St Johns avenues in downtown Highland Park on Wednesday.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Carly Levin was in the parade and playing “You’re a Grand Old Flag” on her alto saxophone when the bullets came and people began to run for their lives.

The soon-to-be Highland Park High School sophomore didn’t drop her instrument.

“You’d think if I’m running and it’s an extra weight on me, why didn’t I take it off and get rid of it? The most important thing is getting to safety,” the 15-year-old said.

On Thursday, people in Highland Park were just beginning to pick apart the tangle of emotions and confusion wrought by the July Fourth parade shootings.

And as residents picked up the pieces of their lives, they came in droves to Highland Park High School to retrieve belongings discarded when the shooting began: folding chairs, water bottles, shoes, soggy American flag blankets.

At City Hall, items left lying on the front lawn included a sippy cup with spoiled milk inside and a book lying in the seat of a stroller: “Babies Love Valentines.”

Levin, 15, was with her mother, Alisha Levin, at the high school, where the FBI was helping people retrieve possessions left at the parade. Malachi, a comfort dog, was there too. Visitors young and old were encouraged to pet the golden retriever. Levin was there to meet up with other members of the high school marching band — and to talk to volunteer counselors.

“It’s hard to believe so many people died from one person who made an awful decision,” Carly Levin said. “And on top of that, it was just a block away from where I was standing.”

As she spoke, her mother, Alisha Levin, stood nearby, casting an anxious eye at the teenager. When the shots rang out, Carly Levin and the rest of the marching band had just passed out of view of her parents — prompting them to run toward the gunman in search of their daughter. The family escaped uninjured.

“It was good for her to be around people who had the same experience,” Alisha Levin said.

Carly Levin said she hadn’t seen the other band members all together since the shooting.

She said counselors had told her it was to be expected that she might not have been thinking logically as she fled. The instinct is to “run, just run,” she said she was told.

Levin said she never wants to play “You’re a Grand Old Flag” ever again. She won’t wear the T-shirt she was wearing that day either. She’ll keep the sheet music, though — as a reminder of a day she never wants to forget.

Josh Friedlander, 38, was at the high school Thursday to pick up his wife’s purse, as well as his two children’s scooters and helmets. He left disappointed. He and his family were a mere 20 feet from where the bullets struck. He was told that his possessions were still at the crime scene.

“It sucks,” Friedlander said. “We’re going on vacation [Friday] and don’t have her ID or wallet.”

Reporters were not allowed onto high school property.

Friedlander said there were “a lot of people crying” inside.

“We got really, really, really lucky,” he said of escaping without injury from the parade.

In downtown Highland Park, colored chalk brightened the drab pavement with messages of hope and resilience. “HP Strong” signs were posted in shop windows. An arc of flower bouquets continued to grow at the city’s Veterans Memorial Park. People came, bowed heads, said prayers. Some cried.

Gail Behun, 51, sat on a bench near the memorial, sipping a chai tea latte. She hadn’t been to the parade since she was 12 years old — when she got heat stroke.

“I’m a very resilient person,” Behun said. “I love this country. I’ve always been proud to be an American. But I’m so tired, ashamed, frustrated.”

Karen Kaplan, 59, was taking a walk with her grandson, Braeden Boton, who is 15 months old. As she held her grandson close, kissing his flyaway brown hair, she looked toward the memorial.

Kaplan wasn’t at the parade on Monday, but only because her grandson was taking a nap at the time.

“I would have been there and right in the middle of it,” she said. “So I’m grateful for this little guy.”

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