'I'm not going anywhere': How mother survived Highland Park shooting, with sheriff's help
How a wounded mother survived shooting, with the sheriff's help
Waiting to step off onto the parade route with other Democratic luminaries Monday in Highland Park, Lake County Sheriff John Idleburg saw the throng of people frantically rushing toward him.
"There was a massive group of people running at us, and then I heard people shouting 'Shots fired!'" he remembered.
Instinctively, he said, the longtime law enforcement officer and Marine headed into the fray, unarmed.
"Being a first responder for so long, I knew people needed my assistance," he said. "When I got to the corner there at Central and 2nd Street, I saw a lot of people in need of medical treatment and care. I saw a lot of blood on the sidewalks and street."
Idleburg found an officer, told him who he was and then called Lake County emergency dispatchers to send all available resources to the scene.
"I started walking back east and I could see some people being attended to, but then I saw a woman lying on her stomach with blood coming from her back," Idleburg recalled.
He began applying pressure, and soon an emergency worker arrived with gloves and large packets of gauze that Idleburg used to stanch the wound.
"The sheriff kept saying over and over, 'I'm here for you and I'm not going anywhere,'" the Highland Park woman he was caring for recalled.
'A war zone'
The woman Idleburg tended to had been at the parade for only a few minutes with her husband and their 3-year-old daughter before the shooting started.
Liz -- who asked that only her first name be used -- had moved to Highland Park four years ago, and this was their first chance as a family to attend the renowned Independence Day parade because the pandemic forced the cancellation of the previous two parades. But with a toddler in tow, they were not among those that had staked a claim to curbside seats earlier in the day or the night before.
"We were standing in front of Walker Brothers, a row behind all the chairs that had been set up," Liz said. "I thought at first it was some kid that had let off firecrackers like everyone else."
But it wasn't.
A hail of bullets ripped through the crowd. Ultimately, police would recover more than 80 spent casings from the scene.
"I guess within 10 seconds or so I realized it was gunshots," Liz said. "It was like a war zone. I can remember seeing across the street, and this one guy moved his head quickly up to look back and then make a move like he was going to run."
Liz immediately turned toward her daughter in the stroller and was struck once by a bullet to her lower right side.
"It's something I wouldn't want anyone to feel," she said. "It felt like being hit with a sonic boom."
The bullet pierced her abdomen and exited through her lower left back.
"I found myself very quickly on the ground and my daughter's stroller next to me, knocked over," she remembered. "I looked up and saw my husband had my daughter and was covering her on the ground as well."
Her husband urged Liz to get up and run, but she told him she had been shot and couldn't move.
"I just kept telling him to go and get her to safety and leave me," she said. "Finally he said OK and that he'd come back for me."
Her husband found a couple hiding behind a massive concrete wall nearby and handed their daughter off to them.
"He said she looked like she had kind eyes and he thought he could trust her," Liz said. "He came back for me, but I couldn't move."
By then, Liz said, a good Samaritan named Brad had shown up to provide initial care and was soon joined by Idleburg.
"At some point, he introduced himself as the sheriff, and I excitedly told him, 'Oh! We just voted for you!'" Liz said.
Idleburg continued to apply pressure on the wound as they waited for an ambulance to arrive for Liz. That allowed Liz's husband to keep checking on their daughter and exchange information with the couple who had agreed to care for the little girl at their home while he stayed with his wife.
"She was very calm," Idleburg said. "She was brave. I told her I was going to stay until the ambulance arrived."
They waited nearly 30 minutes since her wounds didn't appear as extreme as some of the more than two dozen others who were shot that day.
"I'm lucky, I guess, that when I fell, my face was toward the entrance to Walker Brothers, so I couldn't see what had happened behind me," she said. "But my husband did. We were right near where a lot of folks lost their lives."
Idleburg helped paramedics lift Liz onto a gurney and load her into the back of an ambulance, where she would be driven to Lake Forest Hospital.
"I looked around to see if there was anything else I could do," the sheriff said. "I talked with one of the police commanders who asked if I knew how to get in touch with the FBI, so I started making calls to the special agent in charge of the Chicago field office."
The scene was turned over to the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force, which would marshal the resources of dozens of law enforcement officers to gather evidence and hunt for the shooter, who was eventually apprehended in Lake Forest after a brief police chase later that day. The suspect, a 21-year-old Highwood man, is now in jail awaiting trial.
"It's such a great sadness," Idleburg said, "the pain that our community experienced at that time, on a day when so many were celebrating. But I am so proud of them, too. The first responders, citizens, people with medical backgrounds who stepped up and tended to people and were not concerned about their own safety. Unbelievable."
At the hospital, Liz amazed the medical team caring for her.
"Every doctor at the hospital and the nurses said I am a miraculous case," she said. "The bullet missed every single major organ. A centimeter left or right or up or down, and I might not be here today."
The bullet did cause significant nerve damage and inflammation, but she was released from the hospital Wednesday night.
It had been more than two days since she had been able to hold her daughter.
"It was so wonderful to be able to hug her the minute I got through the door. I mean, I don't have words to explain that feeling," she said. "She's 3 and doesn't know much about what's going on, but we'll be as honest as we can if she asks questions."
Liz said she is still processing her emotions in the wake of the shooting. She is hopeful she'll eventually regain full mobility, but there is a chance she'll have to use a cane for the rest of her life.
"I don't believe in the death penalty, even when there are people I think deserve it," she said. "We have to have compassion even for those people who don't deserve it. Besides, I think wasting away in prison for the rest of your life is pretty terrible."
Liz and her family have been deluged with kindness in the aftermath of Monday's tragedy. She said her house has been filled with flowers, her counters are covered with treats and her refrigerator overflowing with meals.
"What I would wish is for everyone in this world to live in a community like this," she said of her Highland Park neighbors. "Anytime I've asked for something and needed help, I've been able to get it 10-, 20-, 50-fold."
Liz and the sheriff were also able to reconnect Thursday when Idleburg stopped by her house for a few minutes to check on the family.
"It was a blessing to see her smile," Idleburg said.