Zoe Pawelczak’s dad thought the repetitive pops ringing out at Highland Park’s Fourth of July parade Monday morning were part of the show, she says. But she felt something was off.
“I’m like, ‘Dad, no … something is wrong,’ and I grabbed him” and ran, Pawelczak told CNN. People behind them started running, too.
“And I looked back … and then it was just this sea of panic, and people just falling and falling,” she recalled.
Pawelczak was one of the witnesses telling stories of sheer terror mere hours after the shooting in the Chicago suburb. Authorities say someone opened fire from a roof as the parade passed nearby, killing at least six people and wounding about two dozen others. Police were still searching for a suspect Monday afternoon.
Pawelczak, who’d just moved back from Arizona, said she went to the parade to bond with her father, as she used to attended the event as a child. After a band passed she heard a long round of shots – maybe 50 or more, she said.
She believes she saw at least one person shot dead, she told CNN, choking up. It was not immediately clear who that was.
After she grabbed her father, they hid behind a dumpster for about an hour, before police ushered them and others into a sporting goods store, she said. She and her father were OK, but others in the store were injured.
“One man had been shot in the head – like, his ear. He was bleeding all over his face,” Pawelczak told CNN. “There was another girl that got escorted out, (who) was shot in the leg.”
Pawelczak and her father and waited in the basement until police escorted them out of the store.
Outside, the streets were “quite littered,” Pawelczak said, and there was “blood everywhere.”
“It looked like a battle zone,” she said. “Gun violence is never OK – we should never be numb to this.”
Warren Fried, who attended the parade with his wife and 7-year-old twins, said he watched police and an ambulance pass by him at the parade and afterward heard an array of gunshots. People began yelling, “shooter” and, “run,” and he and his family fled toward their car for safety.
“People were hiding, kids were on the streets looking for their parents, just in a state of shock,” he said.
Another attendee, Miles Zaremski, who has lived in the area for about 37 years, first thought the gunshots were backfire from a parade vehicle, or fireworks.
When it continued, he realized it was from a gun – and he saw people rushing away.
“I saw blood on the sidewalk. I saw a bloodied body that looked deceased,” Zaremski told CNN. “It was sickening. It was just chaotic.”
Debbie Glickman, 54, was dancing to music, she said, when “all of a sudden we saw people running away from the parade.”
“One of my friends … just said, ‘Run, run, run – there’s a shooter, there’s a shooter!’” she recalled. Glickman ran, and said she did not see a gunman or anyone injured.
“People were thinking that maybe it was just a firecracker that had gone off bad, but people were running, and … it just was absolute mass chaos,” she said. “It was absolutely the most terrifying thing that’s ever happened to me.”
Larry Bloom, a Highland Park resident of 15 years, told CNN he had cycled to the parade and was standing just to the right of a bandstand when he heard a “pop, pop, pop.”
“Then it just opened-up. Just a rain of gunshots, just so quickly, for quite a while, at least it seemed,” Bloom said. “Then everybody just got up, turned and ran and tried to get behind something.”
It was early in the celebrations and there were a lot of people present, Bloom said: “Just imagine a full audience for a parade, it was that many people. It was hundreds of people just in that area – just all running in the same direction,” he said.
The shots felt like they were coming from across the street and aimed at the area of the crowd he was in, Bloom said, though it was hard to establish where the gunman was. “It was right on top of us,” he said. “From a rooftop wouldn’t be unimaginable.”
When the gunshots stopped and it cleared out and the police moved in, most people left the area, Bloom said.
“Over the years, considering the temperature of this country and some of the demographics of our town here, every year I’m surprised – and thankful – that it hasn’t happened yet. And after I got to a safe space and I was able to get a few seconds of breath, I really just thought, ‘Yup, see, it finally happened here, this is ours.’ It’s disappointing, but I’m surprised it took this long, which sounds awful,” Bloom said.
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