Police are looking for a gunman who reportedly shot dead six people who were attending a July 4 Independence Day celebration in Highland Park, Chicago today (NZT).
At least 24 people were also injured after the killer attacked victims sniper-style from a rooftop above the Parade in the suburb of Highland Park.
The hunt is on for a white man, approximately 18 to 20 years old, with longer black hair wearing a white or blue T-shirt.
Witnesses told the Chicago Sun Times they saw at least three bloodied bodies covered in blankets on the ground and five others injured nearby.
Highland Park Police Commander Chris O'Neill, the incident commander at the scene, urged people to shelter in place as authorities searched for the suspect.
The July 4 shooting was just the latest to shatter the rituals of American life. Schools, churches, grocery stores and now community parades have all become killing grounds in recent months. This time, the bloodshed came as the nation tried to find cause to celebrate its founding and the bonds that still hold it together.
Mayor Nancy Rotering said the violence "has shaken us to our core," adding, "On a day that we came together to celebrate community and freedom, we are instead mourning the tragic loss of life and struggling with the terror that was brought upon us."
The shooting occurred at a spot on the parade route where many residents had staked out prime viewing points early in the day for the annual celebration. But dozens of fired bullets sent hundreds of parade-goers — some visibly bloodied — fleeing. They left a trail of abandoned items that showed everyday life suddenly, violently disrupted: A half-eaten bag of potato chips; a box of chocolate cookies spilled onto the grass; a child's Chicago Cubs cap.
Lake County Major Crime Task Force spokesman Christopher Covelli said "several of the deceased victims" died at the scene and one was taken to a hospital and died there. Police have not released details about the victims or wounded.
Authorities said the shooter opened fire around 10:15 a.m., when the parade was about three-quarters through.
Covelli said at a news conference that the gunman apparently used a "high-powered rifle" to fire from a spot atop a building where he was "very difficult to see." He said the rifle was recovered at the scene.
"Very random, very intentional and a very sad day," Covelli said.
President Joe Biden last month signed the widest-ranging gun violence bill passed by Congress in decades, a compromise that showed at once both progress on a long-intractable issue and the deep-seated partisan divide that persists.
Biden on Monday said he and first lady Jill Biden were "shocked by the senseless gun violence that has yet again brought grief to an American community on this Independence Day." He said he had "surged Federal law enforcement to assist in the urgent search for the shooter, who remains at large at this time."
Police believe there was only one shooter but warned that he should still be considered armed and dangerous. Several nearby cities canceled events including parades and fireworks, some of them noting that the Highland Park shooter was still at large. Evanston, Deerfield, Skokie, Waukegan and Glencoe canceled events.
"You have a tragic mass act of violence that was random here today at a community event where people were gathered to celebrate, and the offender has not been apprehended thus far," Covelli, the crime task force spokesman, said. "So, could this happen again? We don't know what his intentions are at this point, so certainly we're not sure of that."
More than 100 law enforcement officers were called to the parade scene or dispatched to find the suspected shooter.
Hours after the shooting, law enforcement officers searched an office building near where the shooting occurred. Nearby, armed FBI agents in camouflage escorted a family with two small girls across Central Street hours after the shooting. The children looked visibly frightened even as their mother attempted to reassure them that the agents leading and flanking them would protect them.
Armed FBI agents in camouflage escorted a family with two small girls across Central Street hours after the shooting. The children looked visibly frightened even as their mother attempted to reassure them that the agents leading and flanking them would protect them.
"Don't worry, you're safe now," she told them. "These guys will protect you."
Ominous signs of a joyous event suddenly turned to horror filled both sides of Central Street where the shooting occurred. Dozens of baby strollers, some bearing American flags, abandoned children's bikes, a helmet bedecked with images of Cinderella were left behind in their haste. Blankets, lawn chairs, coffees and water bottles were knocked over as people fled.
Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker said in a statement: "There are no words for the kind of monster who lies in wait and fires into a crowd of families with children celebrating a holiday with their community."
Gina Troiani and her son were lined up with his daycare class ready to walk onto the parade route when she heard a loud sound that she believed was fireworks — until she heard people yell about a shooter.
"We just start running in the opposite direction," she told The Associated Press.
Her 5-year-old son was riding his bike decorated with red and blue curled ribbons. He and other children in the group held small American flags. The city said on its website that the festivities were to include a children's bike and pet parade.
Troiani said she pushed her son's bike, running through the neighborhood to get back to their car.
In a video that Troiani shot on her phone, some of the kids are visibly startled at the loud noise and they scramble to the side of the road as a siren wails nearby.
It was just sort of chaos," she said. "There were people that got separated from their families, looking for them. Others just dropped their wagons, grabbed their kids and started running."
Debbie Glickman, a Highland Park resident, said she was on a parade float with coworkers and the group was preparing to turn onto the main route when she saw people running from the area.
"People started saying: 'There's a shooter, there's a shooter, there's a shooter,'" Glickman told the Associated Press. "So we just ran. We just ran. It's like mass chaos down there."
She didn't hear any noises or see anyone who appeared to be injured.
"I'm so freaked out," she said. "It's just so sad."