Editor’s note: For more of our coverage, here is our story on the volunteers who had to shut down today’s parade and here is the main story on the shooting and how the investigation July 5 unfolded and our photo essay of Evanstonians reacting to the shooting. 

Adrienne Drell, a retired reporter with the Chicago Sun Times, had just picked a spot on Central Avenue at the end of the Highland Park Fourth of July parade route. She was not far from Sunset Park, 1801 Sunset Rd., where post-parade activities were scheduled.

A marching band wearing blue and white uniforms (likely the Highland Park High School marching band) was passing by when she saw people running. Drell said: “All of a sudden, the band disperses and kind of starts running and I’m thinking ‘That’s how they’re ending the parade?’ and then they’re running over my head and everyone says ‘Get out of here! Get out of here!’

“Some older man came up and said ‘You gotta get out of here.’ And then he picks me up, literally, shoving me away and then a cop came by with a dog and said, ‘Get out of here.’ Everybody’s running all over frantically. And we heard that there were shooters.”

At least six people were killed Monday morning and more than two dozen injured after a shooter or shooters opened fire on the marchers and parade goers. Police have yet to find the shooter and are asking people to stay away from downtown Highland Park.

Neighboring suburbs, including Evanston, have cancelled all holiday activities, parades, gatherings, fireworks. Evanston has closed the beaches “out of extreme caution,” the Evanston Police Department said.

Highland Park resident Livi Alexander was nearby when the shooting began and helped administer gauze to victims on the scene.

But Alexander said most of the people they aided were already close to death: “I didn’t exactly expect many of the people that I helped to really make it more than a few more minutes. Just because of where they were shot, a lot of them were in the abdomen, some were in the shoulder, some were in the chest.”

Alexander, a former National Guard infantryman and has lived in Highland Park for 13 years. They said while they have “been in shootings before,” they’d never experienced the helplessness they felt in Highland Park.

“I felt like I couldn’t do anything, and the little that I did do just wasn’t enough, like I couldn’t stop this person from dying,” Alexander said. “The gauze was just not enough, and as I was watching this person, I’m like, I know what’s going to happen.

“I just had to figure out how many lives I could save, or at least slow from dying as much as I could.”Alexander said although firefighters and medics were on the scene quickly, there was “not enough movement” by Highland Park police officers in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.

“It was just a mess, I just don’t think that the leadership was there in my opinion,” Alexander said. “They looked like they were in such crazy disarray and were so directionless.”

‘A picture-perfect parade’ – and then…

Eyewitnesses gave a picture of a hot, bright morning filled with crowds eager to return to the normalcy of post-pandemic activities such as a parade, backyard barbecues and fireworks.

Melanie Shanks and her husband, Dean Butterman, have lived in Highland Park for 29 years. They had just biked to the city’s parade route and said it was a classic “picture-perfect” parade with nice weather, mariachi bands, klezmer bands and attendees in high spirits as “all your typical floats” started to pass. People were throwing out candy to kids, too.

“We were just about to sit down when all of a sudden we heard rapid fire bam-bam- bam-bam. And I thought, like everybody else seems to have thought, that it was either fireworks, or they had some sort of a military display,” Butterman said. 

“People scattering in all directions. And it wasn’t a stampede or anything. People were just running from the shots in the scene that you know. I didn’t see, but I still saw people running away. It’s best to follow,” Butterman said.

Shanks added that there were two separate bursts of rapid-fire before it stopped.

After a minute or so, the couple stopped running and Butterman noticed the police who previously were controlling traffic had left. So the couple knew something was wrong. After they started hearing sirens, they went back to retrieve their bikes and left, but they didn’t see the shooter or any victims throughout their experience.

“These things aren’t safe anymore, anywhere. And I would avoid these anyway, I’m not going back to any of this stuff,” Butterman said.

As the couple left, they saw a lot of kids crying on their way out, with parents trying to console them as everybody walked away from the shooting.

‘It was so loud you couldn’t even hear yourself’

Richard, 73, who asked his last name not be used to protect his privacy, said he was seated at the parade route with his two grown daughters, son-in-law, former wife and two grandchildren.

He said the parade had started and when the marching band had passed: “I heard and everybody else heard the loudest shot. I knew it was gunshots, but a lot of other people probably might have thought they were firecrackers. But it was loud. It was so loud you couldn’t even hear yourself. When I tell you, I am not exaggerating, it was unbelievably loud. 

“Everybody on both sides of the street where they were watching the parade panicked and just took off in any direction that they could. I saw smoke from the shooter but did not see the shooter. Nor did I see his gun, but it was clearly an automatic assault weapon of some type because nothing can fire as quickly as that did.”

“All I was thinking about was protecting my family, getting my body over the kids as I was running to make sure that they didn’t get shot somehow.

“I saw two people fall…we turned around and found a storefront that had an entrance way that allowed us to go in and hide. We stayed down there…the police came by and allowed us to clear out.

“Apparently the shooter was seen trying to flee … [we walked] down the street to Green Bay Road. I saw police trying to save two people that were obviously massively hurt, doing CPR. I saw two bodies that were covered. The police were there so quickly. I only have to tell you, I mean I get emotional talking any further.”

Police officers were providing escorts to evacuate people safely from the downtown buildings where they were sheltering, not far from where the shooter opened fire.

Drell, who lives in one of those buildings said, everyone was “shaken, saying, ‘I can’t believe this, I can’t believe this happened.’ It’s very jarring.” 

Butterman said it all happened in less than a minute. “But we were probably just, you know, 15 to 20 feet from where I think that people were shot.” But, he added, he wouldn’t be surprised if the city doesn’t have a 4th of July celebration for a decade following today’s shooting. 

Wendi Kromash is curious about everything and will write about anything. She tends to focus on one-on-one interviews with community leaders, recaps and reviews of cultural events, feature stories about...

Debbie-Marie Brown is a reporter and Racial Justice Fellow at the Evanston RoundTable. They cover the local reparations initiative, Black life in Evanston, and the 5th ward. Contact Debbie-Marie at dmb@evanstonroundtable.com...

Susy Schultz is the editor of the Evanston Roundtable. She has been a journalist for more than 20 years, and is the former president of Public Narrative, a nonprofit dedicated to teaching journalists and...

Alex Harrison reports on local government, public safety, developments, town-gown relations and more for the RoundTable. He graduated from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism in June...