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Highland Park, a wealthy, all-American suburb, reels from mass shooting

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Abandoned lawn chairs stand at the scene of the Fourth of July parade shooting in Highland Park, Illinois on July 4, 2022./AFP
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Jul 06, 2022 - 03:26 AM

HIGHLAND PARK — It was the leafy, suburban backdrop for classic American films such as “Risky Business” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” but now Highland Park, Illinois has become the scene of a uniquely American crime — the city has been added to the long list of deadly shootings in the United States.

During the town’s annual Fourth of July parade, a 21-year-old gunman stood on a rooftop and opened fire on the parade and its spectators.

At least seven people were killed and more than two dozen others wounded — victims chosen at random, police said Tuesday.

Along the parade route, American flags and LGBT pride flags hang side by side from lamp posts. But, behind yellow police tape, FBI officers are busy.

Overturned strollers still lie next to tricycles and folding chairs, all abandoned in the aftermath of the shooting that rocked the town, known for its plush homes, Lake Michigan beachfront and a few famous residents.

In front of the Highland Park Presbyterian Church, blue hearts have been mounted on small white sticks, inscribed with the names of the victims. Residents take turns writing a note on the hearts, which will be given to the families of the deceased.

Natalie Belloff came to the scene Tuesday. A Highland Park native, she went to the same school as the accused shooter, though she said she didn’t know him.

The 20-year-old student at the University of Illinois told AFP she was “just horrified, mad… just appalled” by the shooting.

‘A safe community’ 

Belloff thinks the United States needs to pass more laws limiting access to guns.

“You can still have a second amendment right and not be able to purchase an assault rifle at the age of 20-21,” she said, referring to the US constitutional amendment that guarantees the right to bear arms.

Delivery driver Ivana Spasova agreed, saying “We shouldn’t give guns to young people and especially military-style guns.”

“This is a safe community,” said the 25-year-old, standing near the police cordon.

Susan Millner, 45, came with her mother to the scene of the shooting.

The two women had wanted to go to the parade with their families, like they do every year — but weren’t able to on Monday.

Millner said that in addition to guns, there is a “major mental health crisis” in the country.

“We don’t have the resources” to combat it, said the therapist, who noted that the situation has only gotten worse with the pandemic, particularly among younger people.

Andy Kanter, 60, a chief medical officer, was having trouble explaining what had happened to his children, aged eight and 10.

“It was a very difficult conversation to have for them,” he said. “We want people, especially our kids, to feel like they can grow up in a world where they have a future and where they can be happy. And trying to describe such a tragedy to them was a challenge.”

Chicago elite 

A few tree-lined streets away from the scene of the tragedy are the large houses and neatly kept lawns of Highland Park.

Located just 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of Chicago and its notorious crime problems, Highland Park is known as a quiet town. The municipality of 30,000 had even enacted a ban on assault rifles in 2013.

The city is also known for being home to some of Chicago’s elite: basketball superstar Michael Jordan lived there during his years with the Bulls, in a house worth nearly $15 million.

Famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright also designed several houses there.

And in the 1980s, many Highland Park houses served as the backdrop for iconic films including “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” — the home of the character Cameron, with the glass windows through which he accidentally sends his father’s Ferrari, is located there.

“Sixteen Candles” starring Molly Ringwald was also partly shot there, while a producer from the Tom Cruise hit “Risky Business” told the Chicago Tribune in 2013 that Highland Park’s affluence — “basically white boys off the lake” — made it the perfect setting for the film.

Modest home 

The accused shooter, Robert Crimo, was arrested several hours after the attack.

He lived in Highwood, the neighboring town to Highland Park.

On his suburban street on Tuesday, calm had returned.

Dave MacNerland, one of Crimo’s neighbors, said people in the area are “super nice.” He described Highwood as “more of a working class community.”

Outside the suspect’s house — a far more modest building than many in Highland Park — an old gray car is parked on the lawn.

A large sticker, apparently of bared teeth outlined in blood red, across its front bumper gives the vehicle a menacing grin.

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