I was at the 4th of July Parade in Highland Park. I saw the horror unfold.

Editor’s note, 7-6-2022: On the day of the mass shooting in Highland Park, the author of this first-person report – Chicago Sun-Times Washington bureau chief Lynn Sweet took photos of some of the dead with her personal cell phone. We decided to add one of the images to her story, with an explanation of the decision and, because the image is graphic, behind a “click to view” disclaimer. Here is the reasoningby Jennifer Kho, editor-in-chief of Sun Times, which Chicago Public Media acquired in January 2022.

You know why I am writing this.

I was at the 4th of July Parade in Highland Park.

Not as Sun-Times Washington bureau chief. As a civilian. I am staying with my sister during this vacation. She lives in Highland Park, about 25 miles north of downtown Chicago. More than 30,000 people live there.

I just wanted to go to this parade and enjoy the day. Out with friends. Perhaps after the parade, head to one of the stunning Lake Michigan beaches that line this North Shore suburb. Or maybe go for a swim at the Highland Park Pool, next to the fire station. This fire station transformed into an emergency operations center after the unimaginable, is it a cliché? – past.

Within seconds, a sniper – using a high-powered rapid-fire weapon – slaughtered six people and injured dozens more as the parade marched down Central Avenue in downtown Highland Park.

The parade started around 10 am I am at the start of the course.

Leading the parade were fire trucks from Highland Park, sirens blaring the right way – before the world changed in this suburban town at 10.14am when the sniper began firing from a roof.

There was a color guard – four sailors, two with guns on their shoulders. Shortly after, the Highland Park City Council marched, led by Mayor Nancy Rotering – who, minutes after passing, would face a massacre on what was supposed to be a holiday.

The blue-shirted members of the Highland Park High School band descended playing “It’s a Grand Old Flag.” Then the League of Women Voters Walkers from Highland Park and Highwood.

Everything was so deliciously normal.

So it wasn’t.

I was watching and listening to the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band playing on top of a flatbed truck when I saw people running off Central Avenue. “A shooter,” someone said. I saw terrified people running through an underground garage, seeking protection from bullets.

As people fled the scene, I rushed towards her. Please don’t make a big deal that I did. I am journalist.

I saw, frozen in time, what people left behind as they fled. So many prams. Folding chairs. Backpack. Bottles of water. Towels. Blankets. The police were asking people to leave the active shooting scene.

As I approached Port Clinton Square, near the Critics’ Stand, I saw a woman below. I don’t know if she was dead or alive. Two people were leaning over her. I saw another woman on the ground.

Then, near a bench in the square, I came across a pool of blood, ruby ​​red blood. There was so much blood that the pool of blood was lumpy because it was already clotted. The shape of the blood – was it a twisted Rorschach test? – looked like a handgun to me.

I go into this gruesome detail because that’s what gun violence looks like from a rapid-fire weapon with a seemingly high-capacity magazine. My sister, Neesa, on Central near the train tracks, heard two sequences of rapid fire. The break is likely when the shooter has turned off the magazines.

Onlookers at the Highland Park parade flee as gunfire rings out in this screenshot from video captured by Chicago Sun-Times Washington bureau chief Lynn Sweet on the morning of July 4, 2022. Lynn Sweet/Chicago Sun-Times

I saw my first body of the day. A blanket covered the top of the man. His shorts were soaked in blood. His legs were bloody and blood was still flowing from him. Two other bodies were on the steps leading to Port Clinton. Fortunately, someone threw blankets over their chests.

Editor’s note: When Lynn Sweet, Washington bureau chief of the Chicago Sun-Times, arrived at the scene of the Highland Park shooting moments after it happened, she took pictures on her phone that included photos of victims who had been slaughtered. WBEZ with the Chicago Sun-Times editors spent hours — more than a day — considering whether or not to run them. Ultimately, we decided that the strong public interest in documenting one of the worst mass shootings in Illinois history, at a time when mass shootings are on the rise and violent crime and gun violence are among The top five concerns of Americans, made this photo an important image. We think this shows the incredible toll a shooter with a high-powered rifle was able to accomplish in just seconds.

Our job as journalists is to inform our community so that our readers can better understand what is happening around them and make important decisions as part of the democratic process. We also wanted to minimize the harm and invasion of privacy to victims’ families as much as possible. For now, we’ve decided to run just one image, in which the faces of the victims are covered, and to use it in the most limited way possible – cropping the photo to show less of the exposed body of a victim and reducing the resolution. We also don’t plan to use this photo repeatedly, but we think it’s important to release it here as part of the public record – and as part of our ongoing coverage of public policy around crime and firearms, as well as the underlying causes of violence. Here is a more detailed explanation of the decision of Sun-Times Editor-in-chief Jennifer Kho.

We know that a “person of interest” has been apprehended. He’s local, 21, grew up here. We all wonder about his motive.

As I write this, a friend has just sent me a note from his rabbi about a member of North Shore Congregation Israel who was murdered on Monday.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke about the horror in Highland Park. Harris will be in Chicago on Tuesday and is likely to address more gun violence. Governor JB Pritzker and Senator Tammy Duckworth, along with Rotering and many law enforcement officials, gave a press briefing from that fire station — the one next to the city pool, where we were supposed to celebrate the independence of our nation.

The mass shooting in Highland Park draws worldwide attention, as it should: it is the worst mass attack in recent Illinois history.

As we mourn the victims of Highland Park, let us not forget the chronic loss of life in Chicago that occurs almost daily due to gun violence.

On the south and west side of Chicago, nine people were killed and at least 52 others were injured by gunfire in Chicago on Monday evening over the 4th of July weekend.

In May, the Buffalo and Uvalde massacres were added to the tragically growing list of mass shootings in the United States.

And now Highland Park.

I’ve been reporting on gun massacres for years – since the Columbine school shootings in 1999. But always from a distance. I was not there when the murder took place.

Until July 4.

When I was.

Editor’s Note: As part of their investigation, authorities learned that Robert “Bobby” Crimo III was 21, not 22 as originally claimed. This story has been updated to reflect the correct information.

Elizabeth J. Harless