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Highland Park, Ill., honors the victims of last year's July 4th parade shooting

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

One year ago, a gunman opened fire at a July Fourth parade in Highland Park, Ill. Seven people died, and nearly 50 others were injured. And today, people in the community north of Chicago honored those who died and those that were wounded in the attack. We're joined now by reporter Michael Puente of member station WBEZ. Hi there.

MICHAEL PUENTE, BYLINE: Hello there, Juana.

SUMMERS: Michael, remind us briefly, if you can, what happened one year ago in Highland Park?

PUENTE: Well, Juana, it was a big Fourth of July daytime parade. It had been held in this community for years and years and is just your typical parade that happens in so many cities around the country on a holiday. As bands and floats and people marched by, that's when the gunfire began. A gunman with an assault-style rifle had positioned himself on a rooftop along the parade route and began shooting - 80 times, in fact. People fled in every direction as the bullets flew, and in the chaos that ensued, the gunman slipped away but was caught by police later.

SUMMERS: Let's turn now to today. How did residents of Highland Park and people gathered there remember what happened one year ago?

PUENTE: Well, officials did not hold a parade today, but there was a remembrance and a community walk. It started as each of the victims' names were read out loud in a ceremony near City Hall, the seven who were killed and more than 40 others were injured. Then there was a minute of silence, and that was followed by a walk to a local park, which passed the very area where this happened a year ago. I spoke with one marcher, Melissa Lee-Litowitz (ph).

MELISSA LEE-LITOWITZ: You hear about these, you know, horrible shootings happening. You hear about these horrible tragedies. And you talk about them, and you feel for them. But there's really nothing like having it affect your own community, your own friends, your own family. And so I just wanted to show up for the community on behalf of myself and people who I know would like to be here but couldn't be here today.

PUENTE: You know, there was many people, from young to senior citizens, all walking the route dressed in red, white and blue. The parade was replaced by a picnic. There were burgers and music and people relaxing. It almost felt like a normal Fourth of July holiday.

SUMMERS: Almost normal. And how has the community responded to the shooting over the past year?

PUENTE: Well, among the speakers today was the local mayor, Nancy Rotering, who said the community needs to continue to work to bring about change.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NANCY ROTERING: As we remember the victims of the shooting, let us each commit to using the power of our voices to make meaningful change. Let us commit to continue working together to prevent future acts of terrorism, to promote mental health, to create safer communities.

PUENTE: Beyond the politics, residents here are just trying to get on from that day. But some say the Fourth of July will never be the same, although they are trying, and today's community walk and picnic went a long way to bringing a sense of normalcy. Tonight, no fireworks, but a drone show.

SUMMERS: OK. And remind us, if you can, what was the fallout of that shooting?

PUENTE: Well, Juana, the alleged gunman, who was 21 at the time, remains in jail. He's charged with murder and a litany of other charges. The next court hearing is in September, when a trial date could be set. The alleged gunman's father also has some legal troubles. The suspect was 19 when he purchased a weapon, and under Illinois law, his dad had to sponsor his son's firearm card. But police had previously been called to their home multiple times. The suspect had allegedly threatened to kill family members. Prosecutors say the dad should have known his son was troubled and never signed off on a firearm owner's ID card. In terms of some legal changes put in place after the shooting, Highland Park already had an assault weapons ban for the city. But after the attack last year, the state legislature put in place a statewide assault weapons ban, which is being challenged in court.

SUMMERS: That's Michael Puente of member station WBEZ reporting from Highland Park, Ill. Thank you.

PUENTE: Thank you, Juana. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michael Puente
Michael covers news and issues primarily in Northwest Indiana, Chicago’s Southeast side and South Suburbs.