'Reclaim our hometown': Highland Park community to walk parade route in show of solidarity, resilience
An Independence Day Parade just didn't feel right to Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering.
Not when people still are shaken a year after the city's most profound tragedy.
"I think the right word is unsettled," Rotering said. "They're concerned, they're sad, they're frustrated."
Yet, Rotering knows celebrations can draw a community together.
Gathering feedback from sources such as relatives of the seven people killed in last year's shooting and consulting with law enforcement agencies all the way up to the U.S. Department of Justice and the Secret Service, the city arrived at a compromise: a community walk.
"In an effort to sort of find that balance, my thought was that by having a walk together we reclaim our parade route," Rotering said. "For the last year, it was taken from us. It was taken from us by somebody with bad intent, it's been taken from us and politicized, and to me it really means wonderful hometown memories grabbed away from our community without any say on our behalf."
She added, the community walk is an affirmative act "to reclaim our parade route, to reclaim our hometown and our memories, and literally and figuratively continue to take those steps forward together."
Following a 10 a.m. Remembrance Ceremony at city hall, which kicks off Highland Park's July 4 events, the community walk will start at 11 a.m. Entry begins at 8:30 a.m. for both events. Online registration is required.
The city hall ceremony almost certainly will be a solemn one. The community walk brings a sense of determined solidarity, officials said.
"We view the walk as a transitional moment," said Highland Park communications manager Amanda Bennett.
Guests attending the Remembrance Ceremony will step off from city hall, 1707 Saint Johns Ave. Those participating only in the walk will start at the intersection of Saint Johns and Elm Place.
The path will trace the traditional parade route -- west on Central Avenue to Sunset Woods Park, where a community picnic will be held starting at 11:30 a.m.
As of June 26, more than 2,520 people had signed up for both the Remembrance Ceremony and the community walk, with 712 registered only for the walk.
Carlos Perez-Turcios, who after last year's shooting signed up with the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) that operates out of the Highland Park police station, thinks the walk is a "nice thing to do."
His family will be in it, while he'll walk as a CERT member.
Though his family had to flee last year's parade, he looks forward to its return.
"You cannot let fear control you, you cannot let the bad people win," said Perez-Turcios, who said security at the walk will be "unprecedented."
Security will include screening upon check-in with metal detectors and bag checks, police dog units, overhead surveillance and police monitoring the perimeter and joining the walk.
No floats or performers, and people are discouraged to view from the Central Avenue commercial corridor.
"An opportunity for active participation" is the city's stated goal.
"This walk really symbolizes who we are as a community -- we are a resilient community," said Highland Park City Manager Ghida Neukirch, whose July 4 work day will start at 3:45 a.m.
Rotering, launched into a role as a leader on gun safety, said participants will include Gov. J.B. Pritzker, U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider, state Sen. Julie Morrison, state Rep. Bob Morgan, and Lake County State's Attorney Eric Rinehart.
"For so many of us the trauma and the pain of the Fourth of July has been a constant, and I think (we) feel that this one-year remembrance will, to some extent, maybe close a loop on a year of firsts," Rotering said. "For so many of these families it was a year of first birthday without, first anniversary without, first holidays without, special occasions -- life is continuing without.
"There's a sense of being unsettled and hoping to just kind of make it through that day and have nothing happen other than a community coming together and supporting one another," Rotering said.