Highland Park residents grieve together, ponder the future: ‘We’re gonna be looking over our shoulders forever’
“You get really sad, and you have these emotions, but you still do what you have to do,” said Chris Lee, a Highland Park mother of two. “Hopefully it’ll mobilize more people to do stuff and take action.”
About 1,100 people showed up at Sunset Woods Park for a memorial service Thursday night, and to look toward the future in the wake of the Highland Park parade shooting.
The event was organized by 18-year-old Jordana Hozman and 19-year-old Liza Tack, both local representatives with March For Our Lives, a student-led group that advocates for gun control. Just weeks prior, the two had organized a rally pushing stricter gun control in the same park.
Hozman said things in Highland Park “will never be the same,” but that the idea of relieving the pain from Monday’s shooting gives her hope.
“Just seeing our community that we’ve grown up in, a place of shelter for us with blood on our streets and crime scene tape,” Hozman said. “But I’m really looking forward to healing with my community.”
While the night largely focused on healing, it also pivoted toward the future, and specifically action.
“We have to ban assault weapons, we have to have universal background checks, we need to eliminate high capacity magazines that allow for 80 shots to be fired in less than one minute,” said Congressman Brad Schneider to a round of applause from attendees.
In addition to Schneider, state Rep. Bob Morgan also spoke about ending gun violence through legislative actions, and Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehert addressed the victims in the crowd.
But with action also came the reality of life moving forward in the community so recently shaken by a mass shooting.
Phillip Kauffmann, who attended the community event with his 32-year-old daughter and his wife Ellen, said his family will have a new air of caution while living in the town they’ve spent the last 35 years in.
“[Highland Park] is a fantastic place to be, but to have something like this happen,” Phillip Kauffmann said. “We’re gonna be looking over our shoulders forever.”
Daughter Angie Pill said the community “won’t let it define” them but that it will take time for the area to heal.
Chris Lee, a 16-year resident of Highland Park, said she hopes people will be inspired to act after Monday’s tragedy, comparing part of the healing process to how she handled her own grief after her father passed away.
“You get really sad, and you have these emotions, but you still do what you have to do,” Lee, 47, said. “Hopefully it’ll mobilize more people to do stuff and take action.”
Some of those actions come full circle, with residents wanting to make change in the way public events are held.
Mass shootings have “always been a concern” for Susan Vanderhorst, a former special education and art teacher. The recent California transplant said she wants to volunteer to help organize community events — such as parades — in the future, but that the task would be both difficult and worthwhile.
“I don’t want the bad guy to win, but I don’t know what the answer is for our safety,” Vanderhorst said. “I don’t know where the safety is in the classroom, and I don’t know now where the safety is on the street, but I want there to be freedom for children growing up.”