Home Community ‘We Are Taking It Back’: Highland Park remembers, endures and takes a step forward one year later

‘We Are Taking It Back’: Highland Park remembers, endures and takes a step forward one year later

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‘We Are Taking It Back’: Highland Park remembers, endures and takes a step forward one year later

Anisah Mihaljevic wore her running shoes.

Though the event on Tuesday, July 4, was a community walk, Mihaljevic chose her more athletic footwear “just in case.” She said fear nearly kept her away from Highland Park’s Fourth of July events this year but she carried it with her so she could join her neighbors on the complicated day.

“I didn’t know if I’d be able to come,” she said. “I just felt that if I didn’t come I would regret it.”

The community walk was part of an emotional schedule in Highland Park on Tuesday, which marked one year since a rooftop gunman shot more than 50 paradegoers — seven of them fatally — in a horrific attack during the city’s Fourth of July parade.

Complex and assorted emotions defined the day that began with a remembrance ceremony at City Hall and ended with a drone show over Wolters Field.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW A PHOTO GALLERY FROM THE DAY’S EVENTS, INCLUDING THE LT. DAN BAND PERFORMANCE

Mayor Nancy Rotering and other leaders — including Gov. J.B. Pritzker and U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth — lead the community walk on Tuesday, July 4.

Mayor Nancy Rotering talked about the difficulty of planning the Fourth of July. She said City officials received guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice to take a “trauma-formed approach” and consider the feelings of residents like Mihaljevic.

“We really sort of reflected on our own hearts,” she said in a press briefing prior to the ceremonies. “We thought about the very real need to reflect and remember the tragedy that happened here but also recognized, especially for our children, we don’t want them to not have the opportunity to celebrate the Fourth of July.”

The remembrance ceremony, which was recorded and can be viewed online, honored the seven victims of the shooting: Katie Goldstein, Irina McCarthy, Kevin Michael McCarthy, Stephen Straus, Jacki Lovi Sundheim, Nicolás Toledo and Eduardo Uvaldo.

Rabbi Ike Serotta, of Makom Solel Lakeside, was one of five speakers. He shared his complex thoughts with the crowd, acknowledging the ongoing impact the tragedy has had on Highland Parkers.

“I’m sure many of you recognize the fear I feel, looking to the rooftops for shadowy figures, and planning escape routes at every public gathering,” he said. “Healing is not the goal, but resilience enables us to rebuild joy and community after horrific loss.”

As five speakers took turns at the lectern, thousands reflected on the City Hall lawn. Many stood 50 yards back, finding shade on the 90-degree morning. Sweat helped mask the tears.

Residents listen to local speakers during the remembrance ceremony.

Victims’ loved ones, shooting survivors and other special guests had a section up front. U.S. Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin listened from the first row.

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

“To each of you, know this: We continue this journey together.”

Rotering paused mid-speech to begin a minute of silence to honor the seven victims. No one spoke. No cameras clicked. Friends locked arms. A woman tugged a man’s shirt for support.

Highland Park’s poet laureate Laura Joyce-Hubbard and Revs. Hernan Cuevas, of Christ Our Hope, and Quincy Worthington, of Highland Park Presbyterian, also shared compelling words.

Worthington urged Highland Park to unite in its healing and set an example for the rest of the world.

“Our community may never go back to what it once was. We may always carry the scar of July 4, 2022, with us. But friends, it will heal,” he said. “That healing will come in two ways. The first is in our togetherness, in knowing that we aren’t alone in our pain or in this process and we will care for each other through it. And the second way this healing will come is by doing everything in our power and ability to make sure this doesn’t happen to another community

“Let’s model for the rest of the country what true healing looks like. Not with platitudes or clichés about time, rather, let’s model healing with the real work of loving our neighbor and tending to the soul and hurts of those wounded among us.”

The Rev. Hernan Cuevas, of Christ Our Hope Parish, speaks at the ceremony.

Following the remembrance, Rotering and her fellow City Council members got in position to lead the community walk. They held a “We are Highland Park” banner. Gov. J.B. Pritzker joined, standing alongside Duckworth and the local dignitaries.

Behind them were thousands of residents, with more joining just up St. Johns Avenue at Central. More than 5,000 registered for the walk to reclaim the parade route.

“It was important for us to say evil does not win, and this is our parade route. This is our community, and we are taking it back,” Rotering said prior to the day’s events.

Participants covered the traditional route, which included walking past the location of the 2022 shooting. The route was surrounded by metal blockades. Police drones flew overhead, and security personnel — representing dozens of agencies, City Manager Ghida Neukirch said — were stationed along the route and throughout the area.

Gary Sinise, a Highland Park native, performs with his Lt. Dan Band on July 4 at Wolters Field. | Phil Bach/The Record North Shore

The community walk ended near the beginning of the community picnic held at Sunset Woods Park. The evening events at Wolters Field included a concert from the Lt. Dan Band, the ensemble of beloved Highland Park son Gary Sinise and his foundation.

A drone show replaced a fireworks exhibition. In the sky, the flying devices formed colorful images, such as an American flag and a sun as well as phrases like “We are resilient” and “We are HP.”

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