At least six people have died and 30 have been taken to hospital after a shooting at a July 4th parade in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park, and police are looking for a suspect, police said Monday.
Authorities treated the case as an active shooting, with the gunman considered “armed and dangerous”.
Highland Park Police Commander Chris O’Neill, Incident Commander at the scene, urged people to take shelter at the scene while authorities continue their search.
He said on Monday afternoon local time that there were “very active detention efforts”.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported that the parade started around 10:00 am CST (5:00 pm CET) but was abruptly halted 10 minutes after the shots were fired. A Sun-Times reporter saw blankets covered by three bloodied bodies. Several witnesses told the newspaper that they heard gunshots.
Hundreds of parade participants, some of whom were visibly bloody, fled the parade route, throwing chairs, prams and blankets.
The police told people: “Everyone, please disperse. It’s not safe to be here.”
“Very accidental, very deliberate”
Highland Park police said authorities were still looking for the suspect, who was described as a white male between the ages of 18 and 20 with long black hair.
Lake County Major Crime Task Force spokesman Christopher Covelli told a press conference that the shooter appeared to be using a “powerful rifle” to fire from a position on top of a building where he was “very hard to see.” According to him, the rifle was confiscated on the spot.
“A very random, very deliberate and very sad day,” Covelli said.
“You have a tragic mass act of violence that was accidental here today at a public event where people gathered to celebrate and the perpetrator has not yet been apprehended,” he said.
“So, can this happen again? We don’t know what his intentions are at the moment, so of course we’re not sure.”
More than 100 law enforcement officers were called to the parade site or sent to search for the suspected shooter.
Local news channel ABC7 Chicago reported that the ATF bureau had ordered an urgent follow-up on when, where and who acquired the rifle.
Highland Park is a suburban city of about 30,000 in Chicago’s affluent North Shore area, which has never seen mass shootings before.
Pools of blood and overturned chairs
A video taken by a Sun-Times reporter after the shooting broke out shows the band on the platform continuing to play as people run screaming past. A photo posted to social media shows pools of blood near overturned chairs in downtown Highland Park.
Gina Troiani and her son were in line with his kindergarten class, ready to enter the parade route, when she heard a loud sound that she thought was fireworks until she heard people screaming for an arrow.
“We’re just starting to run in the opposite direction,” she told The Associated Press.
Her 5-year-old son rode a bicycle adorned with red and blue curled ribbons. He and other children in the group were holding small American flags. On its website, the city said the celebrations were to include a parade of children’s bikes and pets.
Troiani said she pushed her son’s bike as she ran around the neighborhood to get back to their car.
In the video Troiani filmed with her phone, some children are visibly frightened by the loud noise and scramble to the side of the road as a siren blares nearby.
It was just some kind of chaos,” she said, “people separated from their families were looking for them. Others just abandoned their vans, grabbed the kids and ran.”
Local community ‘shocked to the core’ as Biden expresses shock
US President Joe Biden on Monday said he and First Lady Jill Biden were “shocked by the senseless gun violence that has once again brought grief to the American community this Independence Day.”
Biden said he “called on federal law enforcement to assist in an urgent search for the shooter, who currently remains at large.”
Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rothering said the violence “shocked us to the core,” adding: “On the day we come together to celebrate community and freedom, we instead mourn the tragic loss of life and fight the terror that has brought on us. “
Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker tweeted that he was “closely monitoring the situation in Highland Park” and that the Illinois State Police were providing assistance.
“There are no words about the monster that lies in wait and shoots at the crowd of families with children celebrating the holiday with their community. There is no word on the evil that is robbing our neighbors of their hopes, their dreams, their future,” Pritzker said in a later statement.
Following the Highland Park attack, a number of other neighborhoods and suburbs in Chicago canceled July 4th celebrations, including parades and fireworks, as a precaution. The Chicago White Sox also announced on Twitter that a planned fireworks display after the game had been canceled due to the shooting.