'It's terrible, so terrible': What bystanders saw and heard during Highland Park July 4 shooting
Wendy Emanuel Apple, a Deerfield resident who grew up in Highland Park, was standing on Central Avenue in front of the Bluemercury store.
"I have gone to the parade for as long as I can remember with my parents and my extended family. And we're always on the same spot."
This year, that spot was across the street from a shooter wielding an automatic rifle.
She and a group of 14 -- including her parents, siblings and small nieces and nephews -- were seated on the curb. When gunfire first erupted, they heard at least 20 sequential gunshots. Then, they rushed to an alcove.
"I looked at Walker Brothers (restaurant), and all I see are all these people. Everybody's running," Emanuel Apple said. "But then there are all these people just lying in front of Walker Brothers that aren't running, that are just lying there."
"People were climbing under benches. People were climbing on top of children. There were people yelling that they couldn't find their parents or they couldn't find their son. They're kind of yelling from doorway to doorway because everybody is trying to do whatever they can, but the stores are closed. So we were just trying to find whatever doorways that we could."
As families evacuated, "people left everything behind. They left their purses. My mom found someone's cellphone. People were incredibly kind. Everybody was trying to help each other out and make sure everybody was OK."
Looking back and considering what she might have done differently, she said, "I looked across the street. I never thought to look up."
She said her grandmother, who is 100, loves to attend the parade.
"We told her this year, we thought it would just be too much. And I can't imagine what would have happened if she had been there."
David Baum told The Washington Post the bangs sounded like a howitzer aimed at sitting targets.
Baum was at the Highland Park parade with his three children and a grandson, who had walked in the children's parade 30 minutes before. When the shooting began, it appeared to come from an automatic weapon being fired from the top of an apartment building on Second Street, he said.
The bullets seemed aimed at parade watchers, not the marchers, and once everyone fled there were no bodies or injured people on the street -- only on the sidewalk along the storefronts, Baum said.
The shooting stopped. There were bodies down and people screaming. Doctors, nurses and others in the audience who could help were already applying pressure and tourniquets to the wounded, Baum said.
Baum watched the paramedics arrive and quickly identify the dead from the wounded.
Baum is an OB/GYN at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. "Those bullets eviscerated people," he said. There was blood everywhere. "I am an OB/GYN, not an ER doctor ... the injuries were horrific," he said.
More than 100 Democrats from Lake County, the 10th Congressional District and Moraine Township were unit No. 37 in the parade. The good-natured group had just started to move forward when suddenly they saw people running back.
Lauren Beth Gash, the Lake County Democratic chair and Democratic state central committeewoman, shuttled a group of interns to her house, and then the next group of interns to her house, and then some of the adults.
"A lot of the interns and their parents and volunteers just hung out at my house," she said. "I was racking my brain for every intern who was with us and making sure they were all accounted for ... and making sure all of our volunteers, especially the older ones who maybe wouldn't be able to walk as far, were shuttled."
Huddled together, they spent the next hours eating pizza and watching the news. "It's terrible," she said. "So terrible."
Highland Park American Legion Post 145 was the fifth unit in the parade, and Post Commander Dick Lee and his group were in the back of a pickup truck, getting ready to move out. "A beautiful day. Very festive," said the veteran, who led an infantry platoon in Vietnam. "The crowd appeared to be robust. Lots of kids. Lots of parents. It was just a lovely morning."
He remembers clearing the reviewing stand in Port Clinton Square when they heard dit dit dit dit dit dit dit.
"We turned (and said), 'What is that?' And we heard it again." Lee said it didn't sound like fireworks but sounded more like ammunition. "And the pause in the center I think was a reload."
The last time Miles Zaremski heard popping sounds like that was in Army Reserves training two years ago. At first, he thought it was a backfire from one of the emergency vehicles that led the parade. After another pop, he suspected it might be a firecracker.
But then there were multiple pops, then a pause, and more pops.
"And then the stampede of people rushing from west to east down Central," Zaremski said. "I saw a carnage that I can never describe."
That included two lifeless bodies in pools of blood, and a trail of crimson splashed across the plaza near the Walker Brothers restaurant that led to a woman with an ashen face covered in blood and several injured people. Zaremski found himself in disbelief.
"It must be out of a movie that I'm watching, and it's not," he said. "It's in Highland Park. It's on July 4, the country's birthday, and in a peaceful community where we have an ordinance against assault weapons."
A Highland Park couple, Craig Mandell and Tina Gagliano Mandell, thought their 2-year-old son Grayson would find the parade fun. They were watching from the north side of the street by McGovern and Central.
"They had just finished the pet and bike parade," he said. "The next group was all the fire engines and the police cars, and then after that were a couple of horses, and then here comes the Highland Park High School band.
"Well, we're watching the band, and we're trying to get my son to get into it, and all of a sudden, something just ripples through the crowd. It was crazy. The band just broke formation. Some of them dropped their instruments and started running down the street. And I thought, 'This has to be a prank' or a flash mob."
He and his wife jumped up. "My son was on her lap. I told her to push back away from the street towards Sunset (Foods). And then I went and grabbed my son's stroller and we got separated immediately."
Craig went west on Central and behind a concrete barrier blocking the Sunset parking lot. He remembers seeing abandoned furniture and even a bass drum left behind by a high school musician.
He and Tina eventually found each other. But their trouble wasn't over. When they got home they found that the wife of a close friend had been shot above her hip. Also, his friend's mother had been struck by bullet fragments.