HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. – I wish there was a single word to describe what it’s like in Highland Park right now. Horrifying, devastating, tragic, senseless -- none of them fit quite right.
The bigger problem, though, is they’re not supposed to.
What word best describes a little girl throwing down her princess bike in fear? The tassels are smashed against the pavement; the training wheels lie up in the air.
What one word describes the panic, proven by strollers toppled, cell phones thrown, and coffee cups tipped over?
This is what it’s like when you drop everything and run for your life. That’s not a cliché -- that’s exactly what those in Highland Park Monday morning were doing.
I talked to a man last night who ducked around the corner of a building, hiding from the bullets. He said as soon as they stopped, he ran back to help, but ran back into a war zone. Bodies were lying in the street, people were crying and screaming, others were still in shock because of what had just occurred.
A man from Detroit was hit with shrapnel as he was trying to get his daughter his safety.
“I felt the blood coming down, but it probably looked a lot worse than it was,” he said.
Another woman, who lives blocks from the shooting, said she knows her family is scarred forever.
“My 6-year-old niece came running to my home a few blocks away,” she said. “(My niece) said she was running from the man with all the fireworks.”
Then, there’s the couple with their brand-new smoothie store, who used their basement to hide and shelter around 100 complete strangers who were running from the gunman.
“There were tons of kids, pregnant women, and others in our basement,” Lindsay Meltzer said. “We were just trying to feed people, get markers for the kids, anything. We were in survival mode, truly.”
On Tuesday afternoon, we watched as local and federal investigators kept walking the crime scene over and over again. You could see inquisition on some faces, anger on others.
As flowers and mementos began piling up at the road barricade, frustration was growing, too. Much of it stemmed from the fact that seven people died and more than two dozen were hurt. Many, though, were angry about the type of weapon that was used.
“I’m a firm believer in the Second Amendment,” Tim Wilson said. “I hunted as a kid, but we never used assault weapons. We don’t need to have assault weapons. If it were a single magazine, there would have been far less shots fired than the 60 or so that were raining down on us. If you haven’t gone through that, the bullets coming down, it was horrific, and I don’t understand why we need to have those type of weapons available to anybody.”
That’s a sentiment nearly every person I talked to had: wondering if their town’s shooting would spur change they’d like to see. Time can only tell, especially since that debate is larger than this community.
For them, though, it doesn’t feel like it, especially during the time the gunman was on the loose. It was reminiscent of the Boston Marathon bombing, albeit not for as long. I was in Boston and Watertown as residents locked themselves in their homes, terrified a terrorist might come for them next. That same fear spread quickly through Chicago and its suburbs on Independence Day.
So, it’s hard to describe in a word what’s like here, because of what this community has been through. It’s easier to ask the residents what they feel minute by minute. When I ask that, they say it goes from sorrow, to grief, to despair, to anger, back to sorrow, then to disbelief and frustration, then back to despair again.
And all that has come in less than 24 hours.