How We Got The Picture: Idyllic July 4 morning turned tragic in wake of Highland Park shooting
In my 30 years working for the Daily Herald, I've covered more than my fair share of major news events, including fires, floods, accidents and disasters.
But for major events such as the Palatine Brown's Chicken murders, the Fox River Grove train-vs.-school bus crash, the Northern Illinois University shootings and the Gliniewicz case in Fox Lake, I've served mainly in a supporting role.
That changed on July 4 when I was sent to cover the tragic mass shooting that occurred at the Highland Park parade that morning. Seven people were killed, and three dozen were injured when the assailant, armed with a semi-automatic rifle and perched on a rooftop, opened fire on the parade at 10:14 a.m.
I was to have three assignments, including Family Days at Jewett Park in Deerfield, and the Fourth of July parades in Glenview and Northbrook. Highland Park is also one of the towns covered by the Herald's weekly publications on the North Shore, but due to scheduling conflicts, we were unable to make plans to cover the city's parade.
I arrived in Deerfield at 8:30 a.m. and concentrated mainly on the family-friendly dog show that was scheduled to start a half-hour later. Prizes were awarded for fun categories such as tallest dog, shortest dog, longest tail and best costume.
One of the first dogs I photographed was Ziggy, an Italian greyhound dressed in a patriotic red-white-and-blue costume. After about an hour, I headed to Glenview to prepare to photograph the 11 o'clock parade there.
Not long after my arrival in Glenview, I received a text message from that day's photo editor that there was a mass shooting at the Highland Park parade, and either I or a colleague needed to provide news coverage. I was the one who was closest, and after realizing that the Glenview parade was canceled because of what happened in Highland Park, I headed that way.
Central Avenue east of U.S. 41 was closed, so I cut through the neighborhoods and parked at Sunset Woods Park. It appeared that post-parade festivities had been planned there, yet nobody was around.
As I made my way toward the intersection of Central Avenue and Green Bay Road, which is approximately three blocks from the park, two police officers armed with rifles shouted to me from behind.
I stated that I was a photographer from the Daily Herald and showed them my credentials, and they informed me that the shooter was still on the loose, that he had "high ground," and I should leave the area. Instead, I made my way clockwise around Sunset Foods toward my destination, where other members of the media had already gathered at the police tape that had been set up a block away from the scene.
Heavily armed police officers patrolled the area and searched the downtown area, while an investigation was taking place at the scene. A few times police cars sped away in response to the possible whereabouts of the perpetrator.
Since I arrived more than an hour after the shooting, the main focus of my coverage at the scene was on the police response. The victims had already been transported away from the scene.
Around 2 p.m., people who had found safe haven in nearby businesses were allowed to leave.
The shooter fled the scene by disguising himself as a woman, then drove to the Madison, Wisconsin, area before returning to Lake County. He was caught by police on U.S. 41 near Lake Forest.
During the next two weeks, I photographed memorials, marches and vigils.
When I photographed Ziggy, the Italian greyhound that beautiful sunny morning, I had no idea that such an idyllic day would turn to tragedy less than an hour later, and personally, I'm still trying to make sense of how something so horrible could happen at a Fourth of July parade. I mourn for the victims and their families, and the people who had to witness it.