Editor’s note: RoundTable reporter Wendi Komash went out to Central Avenue this weekend and filed this photo essay. Please note also that the city of Highland Park is asking the community to observe a two-minute moment of silence at 10:14 a.m. on Monday, July 11, to mark the one-week anniversary of the Fourth of July parade shooting that killed seven people and injured more than 30 people. Area churches are also being asked to mark the moment by tolling their bells seven times in memory of the victims who died.
It was as unwelcome a site as it has become so familiar: The scene that comes after a mass shooting, once the injured, the dead, the police and other first responders are gone. The days after a massacre people come to the spot where the horror occurred to make sense, pay their respects and maybe try to erase the haunting shadows of the brutality.
This weekend, people lost in the unmooring that comes with an overwhelming community tragedy, came to Central Avenue in Highland Park along the Fourth of July parade route to make that pilgrimage.
They wanted to leave a note, flowers, a memorial gift, say a prayer or just silently send their condolences.
They came in great numbers and left their mark with piles of flowers, memorial candles, handwritten cards and signs, teddy bears, chalk messages and handmade tributes. And there were large color photos of the victims, each one smiling, happy and brimming with life.
Still, this normally bustling suburban town was eerily quiet. The beautiful sunny day had a heaviness hanging over it, the sadness was palpable. On both sides of the street, around the town’s veteran’s memorial and under the covered area between St. John’s Avenue and First Street, people gathered.
While the RoundTable was taking photos of the impromptu memorials, a man’s voice called out, “Someone left a backpack on the street!”
People scrambled to get away from an unattended large sack. Two women nearby laid on the ground behind a brick wall.
A man came by, picked up the backpack and said, “I’m sorry…I’m sorry…I didn’t realize…I live here…I’m sorry.” He sat down on the curb and cried. It was only 30-seconds if that, but it was a doorway back to a memory they will never forget.
Looking west down the street, it was still a roped off crime scene with police tape preventing the normal car traffic. Businesses were closed. The street was deserted but for a large street cleaner moving slowly down the block, trying to give all of it an industrial cleaning.