I’ve lived in Highland Park since I was 5 years old. When we moved here from California my parents did a great amount of research to make sure they were raising my younger brother and I in an extremely safe, loving, welcoming community. They chose Highland Park. For the past 13 years I have lived every day here with no fear or worry. I would go out with friends and family without even a thought of something terrible happening. As I grew up, I developed anxiety with what I saw over social media. I remember when I heard about the huge Parkland school shooting in Florida a few years ago. I was terrified that something like that could happen where we live. I refused to go to school for 2 days after that. This started my fear and anxiety of mass shootings. Time went on and I frequently heard about more shootings. Shootings at movies, schools, clubs, concerts, parks, stores, malls, parades, and also 2 blocks away from where my mom works in the city. Over the past few years my fears of mass shootings have skyrocketed. For all of highschool, in every class I have ever been in, I always made sure I had a hiding spot planned out and escape plan. When I felt to be in a sketchy/unsafe place, even with all my friends or family, the first thing I would think of is where I would hide or be able to escape from. Since I was 14 years old I have planned hundreds of hiding places/ escape plans in my head. This is not normal. No one should feel the need to do this. My biggest fear for so many years has been to be in a mass shooting but even more losing a loved one in a shooting and not being able to say goodbye.
On July 4th, 2022 my biggest fear was so close to coming true. I woke up at around 10:30 that morning, so excited for the plans I had that day. I grabbed my phone and of course started scrolling on social media. My friends had posted that there was a mass shooting at the Highland Park 4th of July parade. My first thought was my parents going to the parade. My mom and dad love the 4th of July. They have gone to the parade every year we have lived here. A few years we have even been in the parade for my figure skating club. I texted my mom “r u ok, I heard there was a shooting”. I ended up just calling my mom right away after texting her. She picked up. The phone call was 3 minutes long but the only words I can remember from the entire call was her saying, “Your dad and I have been shot and we are at the hospital”. I physically felt my heart sink. I was hysterical. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think. I thought I would throw up. It was pain I have never felt before in my life. It didn’t feel real. It still doesn’t feel real. After the call with my mom I called my boyfriend. My friends called me not knowing my parents were shot at that point, but to just make sure I was safe. I can’t remember anything said from any of those calls. My family friends rushed into our house shortly after with my brother still asleep. Calls and texts started flooding my phone. Word travels fast. Some of my friends came over to be with my brother and I while my wounded parents were at the hospital. It was chaos and it felt like a blur. We were all watching the news. It was so insane to me to see restaurants and shops in the background of the reports that I have gone to growing up. The clothing store I was at the day before with my friends. Time went on and we found out my parents would be ok. My mom was shot in the foot and my dad was shot in the leg. I felt so relieved but also still terrified, devastated, and helpless at the same time. They came home with bandaged up foot and leg. I have never been more thankful to see my parents walk back through that door. They started telling us what happened and I was in disbelief.
My dad pulled my mom to run right away, being able to distinguish the difference between a gunshot and fireworks from his military training. They luckily parked close in the nearest underground parking lot. When they got to the car my mom realized she left her phone where they sat. She also then realized her foot had been shot. She knew she had to get her phone because if she didn’t she would not be able to for days as it would be part of the crime scene. She needed to get a hold of family as none of ours lives here. I was mad when she first told me but I understand now. She pulled the car around with my dad and with the adrenaline and not thinking straight she got it. She wouldn’t have ran up if he was still shooting. Cops and ambulances were already all over where my parents were shot, right in front of Walker bros. When she got her phone she saw the man who was sitting next to her was murdered. She saw more dead bodies and pools of blood right where she was sitting. These are images that will never leave my mom’s mind. She got back to the car and they rushed to the hospital. My mom was cutting people off, speeding, driving in the wrong lanes, screaming out the windows “we have been shot” while my dad was laying down in the back, trying to find anything possible to help the bleeding. They were the first ones at the hospital and, yes this was all after being shot in the foot and leg with an assault rifle. I can’t imagine the traumatizing stress my mom and dad felt in the car. I felt like I was right there with them after hearing their story.
Since my parents have come home alive nothing has felt real. I keep thinking I’ll wake up from this nightmare. The words “Your dad and I have been shot and are at the hospital” replay in my mind every once in a while and I feel my heart sink again every time. I have visions in my head of my parents running for their lives while bleeding out that pop up in my head and it makes me want to throw up. My parents are the most kind hearted people you would ever meet. All they want to do is give. My dad being a veteran and shot at a parade for the country he fought for absolutely disgusts me. He served in the military for years yet, he was never shot there, but instead shot at a family friendly parade in his own town. He described the shooting as what felt like a “war zone”. A fun, family parade turned into a war zone. My parents did not deserve to go through this trauma. No one did. My younger brother and I almost went to the parade that morning. It was the first year we didn’t go and I am so grateful we did not. Where my parents were sitting was where the first bullets hit and in the main target way. My mom has said that if me and my brother went, there was no doubt he and I would have been shot as well. People were murdered right next to my parents. I’m only 18. I want to go to college, get married, have kids, and live life. But how am I supposed to live life if I’m scared one night I won’t come home. I leave my family in about a month for college. It should not be a fear of mine that I won’t come back or they won’t be here when I come home. My heart goes out to all the other families at the parade. This is something that NO ONE should ever have to go through. I am sick to my stomach just writing this. There must be change. The fact that this monster was able to LEGALLY purchase an ASSAULT RIFLE after police had taken 16 knives, a dagger, and sword because a family member said he said he was going to “kill everyone” is beyond me. This was just a few years ago in 2019 that police took his weapons. This could have been prevented. This is not a mental health problem. It’s a gun problem. A gun does not shoot without a person physically pulling the trigger. One person was able to ruin a national holiday for so many people. People are living in fear. Wake up, protest, and vote like your life depends on it because it does. I will not stop fighting for gun control until I see change no matter how long that takes. This was the worst day of my life and I pray that no one has to ever go through anything like that again…but that’s sadly not reality.