Column: As the Band Approached Us, the Gunshots Rang Out in Highland Park

Video: Shots ring out during the Fourth of July parade in Highland Park on July 4, 2022. At least 30 people were shot and six killed. (Credit: Jay T. Smith)

The Highland Park marching band was almost directly in front of us blaring “You’re a Grand Old Flag.” 

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Then the popping sounds began.

Drums? Firecrackers? My wife, our friend and I reacted in slow motion as the band began evacuating amid shouts of “Gunfire!” and “Run!”

The crowd around us immediately began sprinting west on Central Avenue. We turned south on the first possible street, McGovern Avenue, to get away from the parade route.

We stood in stunned silence as terrified people ran by and children wept. Was it real? Were we in danger?

Soon we saw police rushing east on Central, toward where the sounds had come from. “Run, run” they yelled. Sirens blared as we rushed toward our car, which was parked at a nearby church.

It turns out the deadly shooting happened just a block and a half east of our location.

It was a surreal scene. Over and over I heard people say, “How could this happen here?” or “You’d never imagine something like this happening here.”

My thoughts? Why would anyone think it couldn’t happen here?

Las Vegas. Newtown. Buffalo. Uvalde. The list sadly goes on.

As I drove away from the scene, I thought about the families and the lives that would be impacted by whatever had just transpired. As of this writing, six people are dead and at least 30 wounded.

My heart aches. It aches for those who were lost, their families and for the devastating days ahead.

I also thought about next weekend, and the weekend after.

As we mourn the profound tragedy of what happened here in Highland Park, we also need to remember the number of people who are shot and wounded in Chicago where violence is unrelenting week in and week out.

Neither are acceptable.

As journalists, our role is not to propose solutions, but to collect facts and to talk with those who have a variety of ideas about a safer path forward for all communities. 

I look forward to the day when no one has to run from gunfire, in Uvalde, in Highland Park or in Chicago.

Jay T. Smith is the news director of WTTW News and executive producer of “Chicago Tonight.”

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