In what is now a devastatingly familiar pattern in America, the town of Highland Park has begun its slow recovery from the shock of a mass shooting.
The Fourth of July parade shooting took seven lives and injured dozens more, and the trauma of the tragic event has also impacted the thousands of residents there as well as those in the surrounding communities.
Highland Park City Council member Andres Tapia was present at the parade, and posted his personal account of the events on LinkedIn.
“I'll never forget coming up on Port Clinton Square and seeing the bodies there and looking and trying to see if one of them was my wife,” Tapia recalled. “And suddenly in the panic and the fear I looked up and there she was standing all alone … And we had sort of embrace of our lives.”
Though Highland Park is not often thought of as a community with a significant Latino population, Mayor Nancy Rotering said in both the town itself and nearby towns there is a strong Latino presence – and that’s why she felt it was crucial to offer Spanish-language resources as well as offer reassurances that anyone, regardless of documentation status, can access those resources.
“About 25% of our schoolchildren are Latino, and Highwood and Highland Park really view each other more as more than sister communities, but as one community,” Rotering said. “And to that end, I feel it's very important that people recognize that the Latino community has been impacted just as hard as the rest of the non-Latino community. We know that folks in Waukegan in North Chicago and Highwood are needing services just as much as people who live in Highland Park.”
Tapia said that publicly sharing his experience and talking about seeking help for the trauma he endured was important for him to do as a community leader.
“That was one step that I took for my own health and my health of my family, but also I needed to be strong along with the mayor and the rest of the city leaders to comfort and support our citizenry and I realized as I was there that I needed to be a role model about getting the help because I really needed it,” he said. “I was as devastated as everybody else, as traumatized as everybody else. So I felt that not only did it benefit me, I had to tell others that it was beneficial and I had to encourage others to get the help that was available.”
In recent days, Rotering and other Highland Park community members have traveled to Washington DC in hopes of effecting legislative change to prevent future mass shootings.
“I think we need a national ban on weapons that were built and designed for mass destruction in combat. We as a city banned assault weapons in 2013, in the wake of Sandy Hook, recognizing that this devastation was all over our country. But Highland Park isn’t an island,” Rotering said. “And so we reflected the values of our community. But I would guess that the values of most Americans is that we do need to get these weapons off of our streets. For most of the mayors of this country, it's not a question of if this happens, but when will this happen. And that's a horrible thing to think about.”
Tapia urges anyone impacted by the shooting to take advantage of the resources on offer in and around Highland Park.
“I'll speak particularly to Latino community, you know, we have a stigma in our community about seeking help for mental health,” he said. “No one escapes the impact of what happened, whether you got physically injured or not. As Latino man, many times we say I'm brave, I don't need that. We cannot help our families unless we take care of ourselves.”