By MICHAEL TARM, KATHLEEN FOODY and ROGER SCHNEIDER
HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. (AP) — A gunman on a rooftop opened fire on an Independence Day parade in suburban Chicago on Monday, killing at least six people, wounding 24 and sending hundreds of marchers, parents with strollers and children on bicycles fleeing in terror, police said. The suspect remained on the loose hours later as authorities scoured the area.
Highland Park Police Commander Chris O’Neill, the incident commander on scene, urged people to shelter in place as authorities search for the suspect. He said Monday afternoon that a “very active apprehension effort” was underway.
The July 4 shooting was just the latest to shatter the rituals of American life. Schools, churches, grocery stores and now community parades have all become killing grounds in recent months. This time, the bloodshed came as the nation tried to find cause to celebrate its founding and the bonds that still hold it together.
Mayor Nancy Rotering said the violence “has shaken us to our core,” adding, “On a day that we came together to celebrate community and freedom, we are instead mourning the tragic loss of life and struggling with the terror that was brought upon us.”
The shooting occurred at a spot on the parade route where many residents had staked out prime viewing points early in the day for the annual celebration. Dozens of fired bullets sent hundreds of parade-goers — some visibly bloodied — fleeing. They left a trail of abandoned items that showed everyday life suddenly, violently disrupted: A half-eaten bag of potato chips; a box of chocolate cookies spilled onto the grass; a child’s Chicago Cubs cap.
“There’s no safe place,” said Highland Park resident Barbara Harte, 73, who had stayed away from the parade fearing a mass shooting, but later ventured from her home.
Lake County Major Crime Task Force spokesman Christopher Covelli said at a news conference “several of the deceased victims” died at the scene and one was taken to a hospital and died there. Police have not released details about the victims or wounded.
Lake County Coroner Jennifer Banek said the five people killed at the parade were adults and she doesn’t have information on the sixth victim who was taken to a hospital and died there.
The shooter opened fire around 10:15 a.m., when the parade was about three-quarters through, authorities said.
Covelli said the gunman apparently used a “high-powered rifle” to fire from a spot atop a commercial building where he was “very difficult to see.” He said the rifle was recovered at the scene. Police also found a ladder attached to the building.
“Very random, very intentional and a very sad day,” Covelli said.
President Joe Biden on Monday said he and first lady Jill Biden were “shocked by the senseless gun violence that has yet again brought grief to an American community on this Independence Day.” He said he had “surged Federal law enforcement to assist in the urgent search for the shooter, who remains at large at this time.”
Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were conducting an urgent trace of the rifle, agency spokesperson April Langwell said. Federal agents conduct such traces to identify when, where and to whom the gun was last sold.
Biden signed the widest-ranging gun violence bill passed by Congress in decades, a compromise that showed at once both progress on a long-intractable issue and the deep-seated partisan divide that persists.
Police believe there was only one shooter but warned that he should still be considered armed and dangerous. Several nearby cities canceled events including parades and fireworks, some of them noting that the Highland Park shooter was still at large. Evanston, Deerfield, Skokie, Waukegan and Glencoe canceled events. The Chicago White Sox also announced on Twitter that a planned post-game fireworks show is canceled due to the shooting.
“You have a tragic mass act of violence that was random here today at a community event where people were gathered to celebrate, and the offender has not been apprehended thus far,” Covelli, the crime task force spokesman, said. “So, could this happen again? We don’t know what his intentions are at this point, so certainly we’re not sure of that.”
More than 100 law enforcement officers were called to the parade scene or dispatched to find the suspected shooter.
Hours after the shooting, law enforcement officers searched an office building near where the shooting occurred. Nearby, armed FBI agents in camouflage had also escorted a family with two small girls across Central Avenue. The children looked visibly frightened even as their mother attempted to reassure them that the agents leading and flanking them would protect them.
“Don’t worry, you’re safe now,” she told them. “These guys will protect you.”
Ominous signs of a joyous event suddenly turned to horror filled both sides of Central Avenue where the shooting occurred. Dozens of baby strollers — some bearing American flags, abandoned children’s bikes and a helmet bedecked with images of Cinderella were left behind. Blankets, lawn chairs, coffees and water bottles were knocked over as people fled.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in a statement: “There are no words for the kind of monster who lies in wait and fires into a crowd of families with children celebrating a holiday with their community.”
Gina Troiani and her son were lined up with his daycare class ready to walk onto the parade route when she heard a loud sound that she believed was fireworks — until she heard people yell about a shooter. In a video that Troiani shot on her phone, some of the kids are visibly startled at the loud noise, and they scramble to the side of the road as a siren wails nearby.
“We just start running in the opposite direction,” she told The Associated Press.
Her 5-year-old son was riding his bike decorated with red and blue curled ribbons. He and other children in the group held small American flags. The city said on its website that the festivities were to include a children’s bike and pet parade.
Troiani said she pushed her son’s bike, running through the neighborhood to get back to their car.
“It was just sort of chaos,” she said. “There were people that got separated from their families, looking for them. Others just dropped their wagons, grabbed their kids and started running.”
Debbie Glickman, a Highland Park resident, said she was on a parade float with coworkers and the group was preparing to turn onto the main route when she saw people running from the area.
“People started saying: ‘There’s a shooter, there’s a shooter, there’s a shooter,'” Glickman told the AP. “So we just ran. We just ran. It’s like mass chaos down there.”
She didn’t hear any noises or see anyone who appeared to be injured.
“I’m so freaked out,” she said. “It’s just so sad.”