The Slatest

“I Am Never Going to Not Have Experienced It”

What it was like to go to Highland Park expecting a celebration and leave a survivor of a mass shooting.

Chairs and belongings are seen left behind at the scene of a mass shooting at a July 4th Parade in downtown Highland Park, Illinois on July 5, 2022.
Chairs and belongings are seen left behind at the scene of a mass shooting in downtown Highland Park, Illinois on July 5, 2022. Max Herman/Getty Images

This as-told-to essay is part of a short series explaining what it was like during the shooting at Highland Park. It is based on a conversation with Adam Sherman, a 30-year-old who grew up in the neighboring town of Deerfield, and attended the parade with his family. The conversation has been transcribed, condensed, and edited for clarity by Hannah Docter-Loeb.

My sister lives in Highland Park, and has three kids all under the age of seven—six, four, and one. We hadn’t been to a Highland Park Fourth of July parade in four years. So obviously, we were looking forward to it. I grew up nearby and had a lot of friends from Highland Park.

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We got there around maybe 10:00 a.m. And we parked right by the Walgreens down 2nd Street, kitty corner from Michael’s, and walked there. My sister and her family were at the corner of St. John and Central, on the side where the train tracks were. And we got there, and we were on the other side, right next to the building across the street from the tracks.

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The parade had already started. We were trying to find a time where we could just go across the street and meet my sister. Before we crossed the street, I ran into my first-grade teacher, and we were talking for a few minutes when all of a sudden there was this rapid succession of just eight pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop noises. And we just turned and my dad was like, “I really don’t like that they’re doing that. People are lighting off firecrackers here and knowing the climate that we live in, unfortunately, how that could scare people”—obviously not knowing that it actually was that.

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And things were just normal, everything continued until about 30 seconds later, the popping noise came back, and people just started running towards us. And that’s when there were just so many different thoughts going through my mind. First, it was this brief moment of disbelief, of ‘oh, people are scared that there’s this noise. The parade will go back to normal in a few minutes.’ And that was… I don’t know why I had that thought, I’m guessing some defense mechanism of coping with what was actually happening. And then it was that fear, that vulnerability of like, ‘holy shit, this is happening.’ That idea that  I could be shot at any second now.

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My dad  was looking for my sister, and we couldn’t find them. They had already taken off and run. And I grabbed my mom’s hand and I yelled at my dad, “We need to run.” I don’t know if we ran or we just walked really quickly, but it was this feeling of trying to settle into the fact that this was happening, and at the same time not believing that it was happening. And I just remember seeing people’s sunglasses on the floor and picking them up. And I dropped them off at the stoop of a church that we walked past. I don’t know why I did that.

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We were just walking, in shock and angry, and we were all crying at some point, and we just headed east. We called my sister, and they’d been picked up by a friend of theirs who drove them back to their house. We were just walking around, and we were then told by someone driving by that the authorities had said the shooter was still at large. We were like, OK, we need to get out of here.’

My dad had parked a block north from where the shooting happened, so we weren’t going anywhere near there. So eventually, a friend of his picked us up and drove us back home. Then we were back and just trying to figure out how to go from there. It’s so twisted and sickly ironic that here we were on a day, being together to celebrate American independence and all that is great in America, only to become casualties to one of this country’s biggest flaws.

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Especially in the past weeks, with Roe v. Wade being overturned and the Supreme Court blocking the ability to put forth efforts to help with climate change, already I was listening to the national anthem and just thinking, “I’m really having a hard time here, really believing this.” And after something like this happens, and I’ve experienced it myself, and I am never going to not have experienced it, and I’m never not going to be a survivor of a mass shooting, it just makes me just angry at what this country has become. It’s the feeling of this is not a country worth celebrating right now, the fact that this is allowed to happen.

There’s this feeling of helplessness, that this could happen again and again and again. And I think going through all these stages of grief is difficult on its own, but again—the anger at this feeling of vulnerability.

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