‘Shock, Sadness, and Fury’ in Wake of Shooting

A gunman on Monday opened fire at a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Illinois, killing seven people and injuring dozens more in one of the most recent mass shootings to plague the nation.

Community members in the North Chicago suburb had gathered to celebrate the town’s first Fourth of July parade in years after the previous two events were canceled due to COVID-19.

Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering was among the parade participants and attendees when shots rang out.

The next 36 hours were a blur of disbelief, heartbreak, and fury, Rotering told Insider. Authorities pursued the suspect in an hours-long manhunt and arrested a 21-year-old man who was charged with seven counts of first-degree murder on Tuesday.

As the town begins to process the horrors of Monday’s attack, Rotering spoke with Insider about gun control, the victims, and her own personal ties to the suspected shooter.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

I want to start by sharing my sincere condolences. To start, I’m just wondering how you’re holding up and how the community is faring? 

Yesterday was a day of disbelief. Today is a day of just unbelievable sadness and grief. People are understanding what’s happened here. The carnage that so many people witnessed really is impacting them. We are offering counseling for free and I think a lot of people are taking some counseling because I think we all need it, frankly.

Can you give us any updates on the people who were injured and are still in the hospital? How are the victims doing?

The victims are ranging based on, obviously, their injuries. We lost another person who succumbed to their injuries. People said they could tell from looking at them who was going to make it and who likely would succumb just because of the unbelievable violence that they endured.

You were present at the parade yesterday — can you describe what the scene was like before the shooting began?

The scene was phenomenal. It was our first parade since the pandemic. We had canceled two parades. It was multiple people deep, everyone was in a celebratory mood. We finally were able to relax and celebrate as a community.

And then It just turned into a mass evacuation, total chaos. We had just passed the intersection, and all of a sudden, the marching band went racing past us. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. And then, obviously, the police started racing toward us, and that’s when I got a call from the city manager who said “there’s been a mass shooting.” And I seriously could not believe it. It was like “What are you telling me?”

And then immediately we started evacuating everyone around the parade route. There’s a large park near the parade route where we have our Fourth Fest, and I went over there and made sure we evacuated everybody from over there as well. And then we had this manhunt, so people were scared to death and hiding in basements of stores and gas stations and their houses until we could locate the shooter. Just a horrible day.

What have the last 36 hours looked like as you begin to deal with the aftermath of that chaos?  

Every person I’ve encountered has needed a hug and has started to cry. That tells me that we are a community that is going to take a long time to heal. The cardinal came to one of the churches tonight. The vice president was here this evening and we were honored to have her speak to our first responders and wish them well and thank them. It’s been an interesting couple of hours having all this go on. I know that people are so angry that this happened in our community and so now we’re now seeing things evolve from shock to abject sadness to fury.

Vice President Kamala Harris walks next to Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering.


US Vice President Kamala Harris walks next to Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering as she makes a surprise visit to the site of a shooting that left seven people dead in Highland Park, Illinois, on July 5, 2022.

Photo by KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images

Highland Park has relatively strict gun laws and yet the suspected shooter was still able to legally obtain the weapon he used. What does that tell you about America’s epidemic of mass shootings and this country’s gun culture?

We passed the assault weapons ban in 2013 in the wake of Sandy Hook. We had a very brief opportunity from the Illinois General Assembly, a 10-day window in which to pass this ban. It reflected the values of our community. We said we have to do this. We need to make this statement.

Since 2018, since our law was adjudicated to be constitutional, I have been pushing the Illinois General Assembly to remove this weird state preemption that occurred after the 10-day window. I spoke to the governor last night. I’ve been in touch with the Senate president and the speaker of the House. It needs to happen — at least take that first step. But truly we know that’s not going to be the cure. We need a national ban. We need these weapons of war taken off our streets.

I heard you say in past interviews that you’ve had mayors of other towns where mass shootings have taken place reaching out to you. Can you share any insight into what they’re telling you?

They’re telling me that this is going to take a long time to heal from. They’ve shared with me a handbook for mayors on what to do post-a mass shooting, which is just unbelievable that there’s a handbook for mayors who are in the aftermath of a mass shootings.

I’m a member of the US Conference for Mayors and a few years ago I attended a seminar, a panel of mayors who had dealt with mass shootings.

While we were in that panel, the mayor of Seattle got the call that a mass shooting had occurred in her city and she ran out of the meeting. I remember thinking there are hundreds of people in this room. What does this say about our nation? Yesterday, we were supposedly celebrating our freedom but we’re not free while these guns are on our streets.

You’ve said you had some familiarity with the man charged in the attack from your time serving as a Cub Scouts leader. What was it like learning that you knew this man accused of committing this act as a child?

I knew him as a very young child. Clearly, he’s had some major issues if he felt compelled to bring evil to his hometown on the Fourth of July. 

We’ve also heard the heartbreaking story of 2-year-old Aiden McCarthy who was orphaned by the shooting. What can people do to help Aiden and other families of victims of the shooting in the coming days?

We’ve had several GoFundMe efforts created. We have suggestions on the front page on our city website and we’ve been very fortunate that the FBI and the state’s attorney and the attorney general have all provided resources focusing on victims’ rights. So we’ll be making sure that the survivors are availing themselves of that. 

But it’s also important for people to note that free counseling is available. We need to make sure that everybody recognizes that they’ve experienced a trauma, whether they were directly there or just in the community, this has impacted everybody in Highland Park.

A stretcher is seen after a mass shooting at the Highland Park Fourth of July parade in downtown Highland Park, Ill.


A stretcher is seen after a mass shooting at the Highland Park Fourth of July parade in downtown Highland Park, Ill.

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

What comes next for you and for this community? How do you begin to process and try to heal?

We will be holding vigils. I will be attending funerals of the deceased. We will be reaching out to anybody who feels that they are fearful in the aftermath.

We are a strong community, we are a multigenerational community. Oftentimes people grow up here, leave, come back, raise their children, their grandparents are here. We will work together to make sure that everybody gets the support that they need. Right now my job is walking down the street hugging people and letting them cry because that’s the kind of pain we’re experiencing

Thank you so much for taking the time during what I’m sure has been a very difficult day. Is there anything else you want to add or you want people to know?

We’re just so appreciative of the coordinated efforts of the FBI, the ATF, the Illinois State Police, all of the regional police departments who really came together in an instant to address and stabilize the situation and then pursue the shooter. We saw an unbelievable amount of collaboration across our first responder agencies and they did a phenomenal job.

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