Horror I never thought I’d experience


Having moved to Highland Park with my family as a 10-year-old, the city has been the place where I raised my children, and now get to watch grandchildren play baseball on the same diamonds where I played as a boy.

It is home and a very good one.

Fourth of July parades were often part of my experience as a child, as a parent, as a reporter and now as a grandparent. A few times, the parade was a three-generational experience with multiple grandparents. Thankfully, that was not the case Monday.

We were finishing breakfast at about 9:25 a.m. Monday when my longtime partner Margie said, “Do you want to go to the parade?”

We were soon on our way.

We parked at the First Bank of Highland Park lot about 150 feet north of Central Avenue to find a place to set our chairs and watch the parade. We opened them at the southwest corner of First Street and Central.

As the parade began we saw and waved at public officials, a United States Navy color guard, a local marching band and the Park District of Highland Park float passing in front of us. We were feeling good. It was about 10:10 a.m.

When I heard crackling noises down the block to the west, I tried to process what I heard..

“That’s gunfire, run,” someone shouted.

I experienced panic, fear more than once and even some clear thinking in the time it took me to run about 50 feet to what became our first haven on our journey to the safety of home.

We started to run south. As I saw the staircase leading to the Port Clinton parking garage, I thought it might be a safe place to shelter. No, I realized if the shooter goes there, it won’t be safe at all.

That was the panic. Next was sheer fear.

I usually run faster than Margie, but not this time. I looked forward for her and did not see her. I looked around and did not see her. Now there was panic and fear all at once. I glanced south and heard her calling my name. The panic was gone, but the fear escalated. She told me to get the chairs, but not to take time to fold them. I vowed internally she would not be out of my sight again.

Then the journalist kicked in. I could not imagine at the time it was really a mass shooting that would leave multiple people dead and more than two dozen injured. Before getting the chairs and going to the car to flee, I texted Mayor Nancy Rotering.

“Can you confirm gunfire at the parade?” I texted. “Was here as a resident but not anymore.”

“Can’t confirm,” she responded in seconds. “Evacuating parade.”

I responded, “Evacuated. Please keep me posted.” She replied with a thumbs-up sign.

About a block north on First Avenue, I thought U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Highland Park, was probably there but he did not reach us before the shooting. I texted him. He responded he and his team were OK. I reached out to the News-Sun editors and asked what was needed.

Once home with Margie it was time to check on friends and family. Others did the same. We got plenty of calls, texts and emails wanting to know if we were OK.

We saw neighbors outside and connected to check on each other. After an experience that I could not have comprehended I would ever experience, and had not even started to fully process, this was the neighborhood — part of the community — starting to come together. This is part of what makes Highland Park a special place. We care about each other.

As we sat at the kitchen table trying to get what news we could, I wrote up o write what I saw and sent it to an editor. I became part of an email feed with Tribune reporters and editors offering what I could. I was asked to go to the hospital and report from there.

With mixed emotions — leaving Margie after what we experienced and feeling a sense of duty as a reporter — I went. On the way, I saw an ambulance driving north past Park Avenue West on Skokie Valley Road with lights flashing. I realized there were more injuries than Highland Park Hospital could handle.

Once at the hospital, I went to the emergency room entrance. A police officer stood at the door, I identified myself and told him why I was there. He told me someone would be out to talk to us “there,” as he pointed to the far reaches of the parking lot.

Arriving at the staging area, there were at least six TV cameras and another newspaper reporter. Soon Jeremy Gorner from the Tribune joined me. We talked to a woman who was at the parade. She came to the hospital to check on a niece.

The woman said her son was supposed to play in the band at the parade that day, but decided against it at the last minute. I thought how fortunate he was. Later that day I saw a video of the band sprinting east on Central fleeing the gunman.

Earlier, I spoke with a family that didn’t attend the parade, and those parents wondered how to tell their young children what happened. I cannot imagine how one could do that knowing it was possible a child’s friend could be one of the victims.

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When I returned home, it was time for reflection and talking about our feelings arising out of the day’s happenings. The gunfire was such a vivid memory in my mind. I wondered if it would ever go away. Except for a little baseball, the TV remained on the news.

When I heard the name Bobby Crimo III as the person of interest, I recognized the name but could not place it. I did some research and realized he has the same name as an older resident I am familiar with, a longtime Highland Park convenience store operator. He had run for mayor against Rotering in 2019.

When I got up Wednesday morning, the gunfire was still vivid in my mind. On my morning run, I thought to myself Bobby Crimo is part of the community, too. When I mentioned this thought to Margie, she said, “He’s one we failed.”

As I think back on the past 26 hours, I am also thinking about all the people who reached out to us to find out if we were at the parade, and if we were OK. Calls, texts and emails came from near and far. Some were from close friends and family. Others came from people not so close whose concern made me feel cared about.

You all know who you are. Your communications were most appreciated. Thank you.

The gunfire is still in my ears.

Steve Sadin is a freelance reporter for the Lake County News-Sun.



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