Candlelight Ceremony Honors Lives Lost in Highland Park Parade Shooting

Last Monday, Highland Park joined the ranks of United States’ communities racked by a mass shooting. A week and a half later, the community held a candlelight vigil outside of City Hall.

Residents have previously come together, with vigils organized by volunteers, or at funerals, and memorial services.

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Wednesday night’s vigil was the first city-organized event since a gunman used a military-grade rifle to randomly shoot into the crowds at the annual Independence Day parade last week.

Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering said it was the “bloodiest day” in the city’s history – a classification backed by crime statistics given that the latest FBI crime data shows zero murders there.

On the Fourth of July alone, that number jumped to seven. Nicolas Toledo-Zaragoza of Morelos, Mexico, Eduardo Uvaldo of Waukegan and Highland Park residents Katherine Goldstein, Irina McCarthy, Kevin McCarthy, Jacquelyn Sundheim and Stephen Straus were killed, while dozens were injured.

“Tonight, we mourn for those who were murdered, we mourn for their families, we mourn for their friends, we mourn for their neighbors, and we mourn for our community,” Rotering said.
Even after the shooting stopped, the trauma of gun violence reverberates, she said.

“Experiencing gun violence in our community has a lasting impact on us – we are the survivors,” Rotering said. “It is incumbent upon each and every one of us to honor those taken and those injured with action – whatever that might mean to you and yours.”

For Highland Park resident Rachel Jacoby, that’s actively fighting for gun safety legislation, like an assault weapons ban, safe storage laws and better awareness and enforcement of red flag laws.
“Really we just want to make sure that what happened here in Highland Park doesn’t happen to any community ever again,” Jacoby said.

Lately, conversations among residents have started not with a comment on the weather or a check in on the latest summer vacation, but with the question: where were you that day?

City manager Ghida Neukirk had started that morning at city hall excited about the celebrations, especially after the COVID-19 break.  She and a couple of relatives then marched in the parade, when they heard gunfire and people started running.

“I knew that they were going to run away from that sound, so I turned around and I ran into the hot zone because I knew there were going to be civilians there and people that needed help. I knew that our first responders would be there. And I wanted to be there to do whatever I could,” she said.

Neukirk said she jumped in to take over for a paramedic who was putting pressure on the wound of an individual who’d been shot, allowing the paramedic to attend to other needs. That person survived, she said.

Neukirk said she is in awe of first responders’ bravery, and appreciative of the many others who stepped up that day and since, with fundraising drives, petitions, marches and staffing a family assistance center that has helped families with questions about everything from medical bills to counseling and immigration.

The center next week will move from the high school to Lincoln elementary, and shift to a focus on case management.

“We are a strong community but we need to recognize that some people are not strong right now, they are dealing with this in a different way,” she said. “Trauma hits at different times and different ways, but the love and support and kindness is Highland Park and so we’re going to continue doing just that.”

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

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