Painful and chilling witness details

The first popping sounds sounded like firecrackers or maybe a gun salute honoring the American flag.

Then someone shouted, “There’s a shooter.

And, in an instant, everyone understood the reality.

This is the country of Uvalde. From the Tops Friendly Markets store. From the Waukesha Christmas Parade.

They grabbed their children under the arms and ran.

They left behind strollers, lawn chairs, cell phones and handbags. They only took what mattered.

“People were terrified, they were screaming,” said Highland Park resident Joe Leslie. “It was a scene from a nightmare.”

It’s a story of witnesses to the deadly shooting at the July 4 parade in Highland Park, told over and over in the hours after the tragedy. In painful and chilling detail, they recounted how someone opened fire during an annual community celebration, killing at least six people, wounding more than two dozen and leaving an entire town traumatized.

Police arrested 22-year-old Robert “Bobby” E. Crimo III Monday night after an hour-long search. He had previously been described as a “person of interest” in the case by Highland Park Police Chief Louis E. Jogmen.

Leslie and her family were seated near the corner of Central Avenue and Green Bay Road when the shots rang out. He immediately grabbed his 4-year-old daughter, Grace, while his wife grabbed their 2-year-old and they both ran. The couple got lost amid the chaos, each on their own way to get a child out of harm’s way.

Leslie ran with about two dozen other people to the bathroom of a nearby Starbucks.

“We were stuck in there, kids were crying, people were completely traumatized,” Leslie said. “I’m thinking, ‘This isn’t a great place, let’s get the hell out of here’, to be honest.”

He became even more anxious when he could not reach his wife. Unbeknownst to her, she had dropped her cell phone in the melee and couldn’t call him. She finally used a stranger’s phone and let him know that she and their other daughter were fine.

After about 10 minutes in the Starbucks, Leslie, Grace and a few others ran to a nearby building because they thought it would be safer. They spent about 45 minutes in the building’s stairwell, listening to more gunshots before a woman greeted them in her apartment, he said.

“We spent the last three hours sitting on his couch,” Leslie said.

Although his daughter did not fully understand the horror of what happened, Leslie said he would struggle to feel safe again.

“We do a lot of things in this community. She’s still at the pool, we go to the parks, she’s at summer camp here and our 2-year-old is at summer camp,” he said. “And now that’s still not fully understood, but I don’t want her to be vulnerable to that.”

Originally from England, Leslie said he was “seriously considering going back there because I don’t feel safe” due to rampant gun violence in the United States.

Other witnesses wondered how deeply the day’s events would hurt their children, if the horrific memories of what they saw and heard on Monday’s sunny summer morning would ever fade.

“We just explained to them, ‘There’s a bad guy with a gun and we have to run to protect you.’ How do you explain this to young children? Carrie Mangoubi asked hours after fleeing with her three children and a niece for safety.

It started as a typical Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, an affluent suburb about 30 miles north of Chicago. Parade goers were predominantly white and affluent, consistent with the demographics of the community. The suburb also has a large Jewish population, as evidenced by the inclusion of a klezmer band, which entertained the crowds with cheerful music.

“It’s one of the (safest) communities,” said Jack Steward, 27, who barricaded himself for two hours at the New Balance shoe store where he works. “It’s crazy to see something like this happen at work.”

Mangoubi also struggled to understand how such a thing could happen in Highland Park, a town that has seen only two murders in the past 20 years, according to available crime data.

But shots rang out. And she seen the marching band get off the road and start sprinting through the streets.

Soon after, fire trucks and police cars began speeding down the parade route, she said.

“It didn’t even occur to me that there would be a shooter,” Mangoubi said. “Then someone shouted, ‘There’s a shooter!’ so we just picked up our kids, grabbed them under their arms and just started rushing in the car.

Gabriela Martinez-Vicencio, from nearby Highwood, went to the parade with her 9-year-old daughter and met other family members. She said she and a relative initially thought the explosions were fireworks.

“I just fell on the floor… my daughter hugged I guess my nephew and my niece. Then as soon as I was able to reconnect I grabbed my daughter because I started screaming the name of everyone I saw and then we ran,” said Martinez-Vicencio, 33. years old, outside NorthShore Highland Park Hospital, where he was told his niece was being treated for a minor injury after possibly scraping her leg while fleeing gunfire.

In the chaos, Martinez-Vicencio ran into a woman and they both fell to the ground. When she got up, she pushed her daughter into a store and tried to find a place to hide her.

“I started crying. We all started crying.

Shane Selieg, 29, was on a nearby street corner when the tragedy began. He had volunteered to work during the holidays as a doctor. Selieg performed CPR on a gunshot victim, he said, and his leg was covered in blood.

“Lots of shooting,” he said, describing the massacre. “A lot of panic. Lots of fear. »

Immediately after the shooting, dozens of police vehicles filled the streets and officers stood on business rooftops brandishing guns and standing watch.

People walked in and out of a municipal building in Highland Park designated as a family reunification center on Monday afternoon. Some brought coolers of food, boxes of donuts and water, and Gatorade, while others sought information about family or friends.

At least three people said they were there to hear from family or friends, or other information about the shooting, but declined to speak further.

Among those who went to the reunification center was Jonathan Birnberg, still dressed in a flag-patterned shirt. Birnberg entered the municipal building to speak to police because he and his family feared returning home with the shooter on the loose.

They live near the parade route, have sheds in their backyards and don’t know if they have locked their doors, he said. He said he understood the police might be too busy to check their home.

Birnberg was at the parade when he heard gunshots, although he said many people at first thought or hoped it was fireworks.

Then everyone dispersed and he was first separated from his family members. Friends and neighbors, however, picked up any children they could find, he said.

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Birnberg first took shelter in a cafe, but then went to a friend’s house, where he stayed for several hours.

“It’s very scary,” Birnberg said.

Highland Park resident Greg Pestine was watching the parade downtown, just after the marching band had passed, when he heard the gunshots.

As parade watchers dispersed and police moved towards the sound, Pestine ran into an alley, where families with children were crying.

After the commotion was over, Pestine looked at the crime scene and saw victims lying on the ground on the sidewalk of 2nd Street in Central. A man, he said, was lying on his back, shot in the chest, as bystanders tried to stop the bleeding.

Another man lying in a pool of blood was motionless when a passerby knocked him over.

“Highland Park was right next door for one of those things,” Pestine said. “It’s so random.”

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