Highland Park comes together one year after Fourth of July parade mass shooting

“There’s a lot of people here, and you’re just standing here thinking it could happen again. That will always stay in your head. But here we are.”

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Family members Nicolas Toledo community walk Highland Park mass shooting Fourth of July 4th parade anniversary

Family members of Nicolas Toledo join thousands in a community walk through downtown Tuesday on the one-year anniversary of the Highland Park mass shooting. Toledo, 78, was one of seven people killed in the shooting that left more than three dozen others injured during Highland Park’s 2022 Fourth of July parade.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Antonio Melgar said he couldn’t shake the nervousness that he felt Tuesday morning, standing in front of Highland Park’s City Hall, blocks from where his wife and 11-year-old son were wounded in last year’s Fourth of July parade shooting.

“It feels a bit strange,” Melgar said. “There’s a lot of people here, and you’re just standing here thinking it could happen again. That will always stay in your head. But here we are.”

Melgar and his wife overcame that feeling, joining thousands of others at a solemn remembrance ceremony at City Hall marking one year since a shooter wreaked havoc on paradegoers, killing seven people and wounding dozens of others.

The community gathered to honor the memory of those lost and to “reclaim” the parade route from the tragic memory.

“This morning, we remember those who were murdered and those whose lives were forever altered. Our hearts will always ache for the families and friends who were left behind to grapple with the pain of their loss,” Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering said at the ceremony. “There is nothing we can say that will fill the holes torn in their hearts or to heal those who were irreparably harmed.”

The ceremony was one of several events to commemorate the day. The community also gathered for a picnic. In the evening, Highland Park native Gary Sinise performed with his band, followed by a drone light show in lieu of fireworks.

City officials said more than 5,000 people had registered to attend.

remembrance ceremony Highland Park mass shooting Fourth of July 4th parade

Thousands gather Tuesday for a remembrance ceremony at City Hall on the one-year anniversary of the Highland Park mass shooting. On July 4, 2022, authorities say Robert Crimo III fired a high-powered rifle from a rooftop onto a crowd attending the city’s Fourth of July parade, killing seven and wounding dozens more.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Families of the victims sat next to each other at the ceremony, wiping away tears as Rotering addressed the crowd. Among them was Alejo Toledo, a son of Nicolas Toledo, who was fatally shot in the incident. Alejo Toledo and his family wore black shirts with an image of their beloved Nicolas.

“I carry my father in my heart,” Alejo Toledo said. “I have wonderful memories of him. My family and I are all here united. I want to say thank you for all the support people have given us. This is a very united city.”

Melgar said the past year has been rough on his family. His wife and son both recovered from wounds to their legs, though the emotional toll will linger for much longer. But he said they won’t let the incident stop them from enjoying the holiday.

“I think we’re OK, we’re not scared,” Melgar said. “It’s been a year since that happened. It was very scary, but we made it here.”

Hundreds of people donned blue shirts emblazoned with the words “We are Highland Park” or “Highland Park Strong.”

“We will never forget what happened here, but we, Highland Park, will not be defined by it. We come together today, united in remembrance and heartbreak, but also refusing to let fear and hatred win,” Rotering said.

 Highland Park denizens wear blue shirts and hold a banner as they take part in a community walk on the one-year anniversary of the Fourth of July parade mass shooting.

Flanked by politicians, supporters and mourners, Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering (at center of banner) leads thousands on a community walk through downtown Tuesday on the one-year anniversary of the Highland Park Fourth of July parade mass shooting. Sen. Tammy Duckworth rides at the front.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The crowd held a minute of silence in honor of those who were killed: Toledo, Katie Goldstein, Irina McCarthy, Kevin McCarthy, Stephen Straus, Jacki Sundheim and Eduardo Uvaldo.

U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth and Gov. J.B. Pritzker were in attendance.

President Joe Biden applauded Illinois lawmakers for banning assault weapons — like the one used in the Highland Park shooting — and urged federal lawmakers to follow their lead.

“Their achievement will save lives. But it will not erase their grief. It will not bring back the seven Americans killed in Highland Park or heal the injuries and trauma that scores of others will continue to carry,” Biden said in a written statement. “And as we have seen over the last few days, much more must be done in Illinois and across America to address the epidemic of gun violence that is tearing our communities apart.”

Mourners hug remembrance ceremony City Hall one-year anniversary Highland Park mass shooting Fourth of July 4th parade

Mourners hug Tuesday at a remembrance ceremony at Highland Park City Hall.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Tuesday morning, Rotering, gun control nonprofit Brady, more than 80 national and state organizations, and gun violence survivors released a letter urging a federal assault weapons ban.

“We need to address the very real epidemic that this is to the public’s health and safety,” Rotering said. “There’s no reason that we have to live this way. We know from our peer nations that no other country has this kind of experience, and we need to stop normalizing gun violence. This is not the way a civilized society lives. We deserve better.”

Security for Tuesday’s events was thorough. Trucks blocked traffic from entering downtown Highland Park, police with long guns could be seen on several rooftops, security combed through every bag at checkpoints and law enforcement was present on nearly every corner.

The city didn’t hold a traditional parade this year, deciding instead to march as a community along the parade route to reclaim the space together.

“Nobody wanted a parade. It was inappropriate. But it was important for us to say evil doesn’t win and this is our parade route. And this is our community that we are taking back,” Rotering told reporters ahead of the events.

community walk crowd one-year anniversary Highland Park Fourth of July 4th parade

Thousands participate in a community walk through downtown Tuesday on the one-year anniversary of the Highland Park Fourth of July parade mass shooting.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Susan Vanderhorst, 70, walked alongside thousands of her fellow community members along the parade route. Even after a year, she said she could still picture the fire trucks flying down Central Avenue to help the wounded. Vanderhorst said it was a challenge to muster up the courage to attend the events and had hoped a parade would have taken place.

“I only came because I think we need to have the parade again,” Vanderhorst said. “I just have a core fear in me that is really hard to shake, and I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for this event.”

Vanderhorst said she didn’t want Robert Crimo III, the man charged with the shooting, to dictate how they live the rest of their lives.

“I don’t want that guy to take away our freedoms, our children being able to enjoy a parade,” Vanderhorst said. “We cannot stop.”

crowd community walk one-year anniversary Highland Park Fourth of July 4th parade

Thousands show their support for the victims and their families by taking part in a community walk through downtown Highland Park on Tuesday.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

remembrance ceremony City Hall one-year anniversary Highland Park mass shooting Fourth of July 4th parade

Participants hug Tuesday at a remembrance ceremony at City Hall on the one-year anniversary of the Highland Park mass shooting.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

crowd participate community walk one-year anniversary Highland Park mass shooting Fourth of July 4th parade

Thousands participate in a community walk through downtown Tuesday on the one-year anniversary of the Highland Park mass shooting.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

remembrance ceremony City Hall one-year anniversary Highland Park mass shooting Fourth of July 4th parade

Thousands gather Tuesday for a remembrance ceremony at City Hall on the one-year anniversary of the Highland Park mass shooting.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

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