Highland Park, site of mass shootings, continues to face trauma


HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. — Susan Isaacson was at a cafe in Highland Park on a recent morning when a smoke alarm began sounding.

His grandchildrenCasey, 7, and Ava, 5, freaked out. “Are the bad guys back? they asked.

Isaacson said his family hasn’t been the same since a gunman fired into a crowd at a local 4th of July parade, killing 7 people and injuring 40 others. “The children are not settled,” she said.

That sentiment is shared by parents and officials in this tight-knit town, who say the community is struggling to regain its sense of security as children return to school this week.

“We thought covid was tough,” said Michael Lubelfeld, superintendent of elementary schools in the city. “It makes covid simple.”

Lubelfeld has organized nine teacher trainings on the topic of trauma. And he made improvements to the school’s security system, including alert systems with panic buttons for all teachers, bullet-proof windows and updated security cameras and door locks. .

However, some parents are calling for armed guards or a ban on large bags, subjects of an upcoming school board meeting.

Others worry about how their still traumatized youngsters will adjust to a new routine.

Jordana Greenberg was at the parade with her family when the shooting began. She said her children – aged 7, 5 and 2 – are still figuring out what happened.

Her 5-year-old daughter Hazel regularly has trouble sleeping. She doesn’t want to ride a bike anymore. During a recent visit to Madison, Wisconsin, Hazel looked at the top of the state capitol building and asked her mother “Could a shooter get up there?”

Lindsey Hartman, 41, said her family was still shaken by what happened at the parade, when she and her husband Danny dove on their daughter Scarlett, 4, to protect her. Trauma rears its ugly head in all sorts of ways, she said.

Recently the family traveled to Wisconsin. One night, as they were putting Scarlett to bed, they heard a loud banging noise – fireworks coming from a nearby camp.

Hartman said it was like a “muscle memory” and she dove over Scarlett, who asked “is the bad guy coming to hurt us?”

“A lot of things have changed, and nothing has changed,” Hartman said. “We are safe from Crimo [the accused attacker]but there’s a next shooter around the corner until we get an assault weapons ban.

Therapy Dogs and Questions: How the Children of Highland Park Are Doing

“Parents are also traumatized,” said Laurie Hochberg, a pediatrician who works in the heart of Highland Park.

Hochberg’s office was so close to the shooting that bullets pierced the walls, shattering the glass windows. His practice has since purchased new, brighter furniture, and all children who come receive stress balls and extra stickers.

“It’s hard,” she added. “We are working with the whole family to get back to normal.”

Shelley Firestone, a psychiatrist who grew up in Highland Park, started hosting free therapy sessions at a local park. Demand, she said, remained steady.

Many people have come to her to try to make sense of the decisions they made during the shooting. A person still struggles with the guilt of running in front of victims because they were desperate to find their own children.

Another told how they fled in a car too small to hold everyone, so people piled into the trunk as they drove away.

Talking about these memories with other survivors offered a space to process the violence.When they meet, realize they are not alone, and talk to each other in a way that honors each other, that is healing,” Firestone said.

Gerry Keen, 76, a permanent resident of Highland Park, attended group therapy weekly. She and her husband were at the parade. As bullets whizzed around them, Keen and her husband lay on the ground, pretending to be dead with wounded all around them.

Keen still suffers from flashbacks. She said she sometimes finds herself suddenly shivering, feeling nauseous and forgetting to breathe.

In the weeks following the shooting, the community canceled a handful of events for safety reasons. The Ravinia Festival, a summer-long outdoor music festival in Highland Park, canceled the live cannon fire it unleashes during its annual performance of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 opening performance, acknowledging the potentially triggering effect on the community.

Fireworks planned for a wedding reception at a Highland Park Country Club have also been cancelled.

Since the shooting, Highland Park City Council has unanimously passed a resolution to ban all semi-automatic weapons, high capacity magazines and body armor. A proposal for a gun store and indoor shooting range in Long Grove, Illinois was withdrawn after the village manager received more than 1,000 protest emails.

But even as the community struggled, some here said they were also impressed by the resilience people have shown.

Jeff Gobena grew up in Highland Park. He now owns Tamales, a popular restaurant that has been around for 16 years old. After the shooting, it closed for just two days, reopening with the crime gang still yards away.

“The community needed a place to gather, cry, talk about it and see each other,” he said.

In the weeks that followed, he noticed a change in his clients, he said.

“If table three doesn’t get their burrito quickly, people understand,” Gobena said. “Little things don’t matter so much now.”