A family embraces each other the day of a mass shooting at a July 4th parade in downtown Highland Park, Illinois. (Photo/Forward-Max Herman-Getty Images)
A family embraces each other the day of a mass shooting at a July 4th parade in downtown Highland Park, Illinois. (Photo/Forward-Max Herman-Getty Images)

I ran for my life from the Highland Park shooting. It will haunt me forever.

Rapid-fire popping noises — a loud burst, then a brief pause, then another sustained staccato, somehow even louder — echoed down Central Street. It had been three years since the last Highland Park, Illinois, Fourth of July parade — a treasured small-town ritual. On a beautiful, clear summer day, the atmosphere was relaxed and festive. Everyone was grateful for the return to normalcy.

In the first 15 minutes of the parade, my wife, Susan, and I waved to the mayor and the folks riding in the vintage fire engine, saluted the military honor guard and cheered the Highland Park High School marching band. Then came that loud popping sound, from a little over a block to our left, farther down the parade route, where the teens in the band were just arriving.

At the first burst, I wondered what idiot would set off firecrackers in the middle of a parade.

At the second, in the pit of my stomach I knew.

Two weeks ago, I had been one of a group of Shabbat morning regulars asked by my shul to attend active shooter training — a security measure decided on after the January hostage crisis at a Texas synagogue. A beefy Homeland Security Department adviser repeated the same simple advice, reinforced by videos and PowerPoints:

Run if you can. Hide if you can’t. Fight if you must.

So my wife and I ran.

As a mass of panicked paradegoers surged toward us, we ran east. My wife couldn’t find a red shirt that morning, so it was easy to keep her in sight in her orange one. We ran a block or so, crossed over to the intersecting street where we’d parked, and stopped. A man on a cellphone breathlessly confirmed that there was a shooter. A young couple with a toddler in a stroller rushed up and said the same.

I realized later that a high-caliber rifle bullet could have easily killed us where we had stopped. Other paradegoers, smarter, fled further east to Lake Michigan, or ran into a store. We were lucky. Lucky to escape relatively easily and lucky to make it quickly around the corner to where our car was parked facing in the right direction, toward home.

What did we feel? Fear, yes — even though the shooting had (for the moment?) stopped. My wife told me later that she was terrified. But I confess, I lacked the imagination to conceive how dangerous the situation remained.

This article first appeared in the Forward.

Michael L. Millenson

Michael L. Millenson, a long-time active member of the Chicago-area Jewish community, is a health-care consultant, researcher and writer and a former Pulitzer Prize-nominated reporter for the Chicago Tribune.


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