They said as soon as the gunfire started, people began running for their lives.
Six people and more than 30 were injured after a shooter opened fire on the parade from a rooftop around 10 a.m. Monday.
Law enforcement said the shooting appeared to be random. Robert “Bobby” E. Crimo, III was identified as a person of interest in the shooting, and was taken into custody at about 6:30 p.m.
Several witnesses said they heard multiple shots fired. One witness said he counted more than 20 shots.
“I thought it was the navy saluting the flag with rifles but then I saw people running, I picked up my son and started running. I ran to one of the buildings, I tried to break glass into get in with my son and I couldn’t break it,” said Alexander, a witness. “It was horrible. When I went back there were a few people shot on the ground… There was no target… it was shooting whoever.”
VIDEO: People flee as shots fired at Highland Park parade
Those in the area were urged to stay inside and remain alert and calm. Some mandatory evacuations were taking place.
“You’re not safe anymore, you’re not going wanna take your kids to a large gathering. And you’re always going to have that. Like when you get a in a car accident, traumatic,” Alexander said.
Loving grandfather, lifelong synagogue member among shooting victims
One witness said “it looked like a war zone,” and he was almost trampled in the stampede after the shots were fired.
“This should not happen in our country,” Paul Chesler said.
“All I thought about was getting my daughter to safety, I ran with her, we went to the nearest McDonalds and she lost her shoe along the way, she was scared, all I just wanted was her to be safe,” said Armani Garcia. “She was in front of walker brothers, she was gonna come sit next to us. I’ll have the girls cross over. They never made it across. The parade was going on and that’s when everything happened.”
For three hours, Donald Johnson hid in a gas station.
“There were six or seven children crying their eyes out, and the mothers finally got them settled down by singing ‘The Wheels On The Bus Go Round and Round,'” he said.
President Joe Biden, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden ‘shocked’ by Highland Park parade shooting
State Sen. Julie Morrison said she was about a block away from the shooting.
“We heard gunshots that I kind of thought it was fireworks, then all of a sudden this wave of people starts running back towards us screaming, crying, hysterical, carrying their kids,” Morrison said.
WATCH: Suburban parade shooting witnesses describe fleeing from gunfire, hiding children
In the aftermath of the shooting, police patrolled the area with rifles.
U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider said he and his campaign team were gathering at the start of the parade when the shooting began.
“My team and I are safe and secure,” he said. “Hearing of loss of life and others injured. My condolences to the family and loved ones; my prayers for the injured and for my community; and my commitment to do everything I can to make our children, our towns, our nation safer. Enough is enough!”
A woman who was at the parade with her family said her best friend’s sister was among those shot.
WATCH | ‘Bodies were blown up by AR-15s’: Dr. David Baum describes parade shooting
“People screaming and running, it was just really traumatizing and scary,” she said. “All I thought about was getting my daughter to safety. I ran with her. We went to the nearest McDonalds. She lost her shoe along the way, my daughter. She was scared. All I want is her to be safe.”
Ariel Rotbol was walking in the parade with a state representative when she heard the gunshots.
“It was a war scene,” Rotbol said. “People just in hysteria. We saw the helicopter, the cars, Homeland Security coming in. In Highland Park, we have not experienced this yet and I don’t think anybody obviously thought this is what was going to happen today and it is just hard to fathom.”
Gov. JB Pritzker tweeted, “My staff and I are closely monitoring the situation in Highland Park. State police are on the scene and we have made all state resources available to the community. We will continue working with local officials to help those affected.”
In a full statement, he said:
“Today, I ask all Illinoisans to pray for the families who have been devastated by the evil unleashed this morning in Highland Park, for those who have lost loved ones and for those who have been injured. I also ask that we all pray for our first responders at all levels of government who are actively working to bring the suspect into custody, and whose bravery undoubtedly saved innocent lives on the scene.
“There are no words for the kind of monster who lies in wait and fires into a crowd of families with children celebrating a holiday with their community. There are no words for the kind of evil that robs our neighbors of their hopes, their dreams, their futures. There are no words I can offer to lift the pain of those they leave behind. Please know that our state grieves with you, that MK and I grieve with you.
“But grief will not bring the victims back, and prayers alone will not put a stop to the terror of rampant gun violence in our country.
“I will stand firm with Illinoisans and Americans: we must – and we will – end this plague of gun violence.”
During a press conference later, he added, “it is devastating that a celebration of America was ripped apart by our uniquely American plague.”
WATCH: Witnesses describe scene of deadly shooting
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot released the following statement on the shooting:
“Thanks to the heroic efforts of law enforcement, a person of interest in the horrific Highland Park mass shooting is in custody. I hope this provides a bit of solace to those who are deeply grieving tonight in the wake of today’s unspeakable tragedy. My heart aches for the people of Highland Park. We must continue to lift up this community, the victims, and their families in prayer. Gun violence does not respect geographic boundaries or socioeconomic differences. It is a plague that affects us all. Whether it is Back of the Yards, Englewood, West Garfield Park, Uvalde, Buffalo, or now Highland Park, none of us are immune, and all are vulnerable without a federal effort to take weapons of war out of the hands of civilians. It can be done, it must be done, and we must continue to move toward that goal with all deliberate speed. We cannot be truly free unless we are relentlessly brave.”
WATCH: Rep. Brad Schneider speaks on Highland Park parade shooting
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle released a statement, saying,
“Cook County stands with Lake County and the Highland Park community following the tragic mass shooting that occurred during their 4th of July parade earlier today. While the situation remains fluid, we are standing by to support law enforcement and our neighbors to the north in any way we can. We will continue to monitor the situation and extend our resources and overall support to the people of Highland Park.
“We must, we all must, focus on stemming the flow of illegal guns and implementing common sense gun laws.
“My continued thoughts are with the families and loved ones who have lost someone and for everyone struggling to comprehend today’s latest senseless act of gun violence.”
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism