HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. – Benny Martinez watched in horror from her lawn as screaming paradegoers came streaming down the hill, fleeing a gunman who opened fire on her beloved small-town Independence Day celebration.
She grabbed her 9-year-old daughter and ran back to their two-story home in this Chicago suburb before ushering strangers into her backyard to take shelter.
“Everybody was happy to watch the parade, but it stopped right away,” said Martinez, 42, who works up the street from her house at the BP gas station, one block from where people were killed. She said it was the first time she’s seen something like this.
Her co-worker Olivia Rodriguez, 60, was at work and watching the parade when she heard shots from what sounded like a “powerful gun,” she said. “People started running – crazy, desperate,” she recounted. “They had to look for shelter.”
The two women declared that they each moved from Mexico to the USA more than two decades ago in pursuit of the American dream.
Hours after a man fired into the parade crowd from a rooftop, killing seven people and injuring more than 30, they reflected on their experience – and what it means to live in America.
Moments after the gunfire erupted, Rodriguez waved 15 to 20 people of all ages into the convenience store, where she found stools and stepladders for them to sit on as they crowded between refrigerators and rows of chips, she said. Some crouched on the floor; others pressed their faces to the windows or scanned their phones for updates.
“People were so scared,” she said.
The small group panicked when misinformation circulated online suggesting the gunman was inside the adjoining Sunset Foods supermarket. “Lock the door! Lock the door!” Rodriguez recalled people demanding.
“We knew they hadn’t caught the guy,” she said.
As the hours dragged on, Rodriguez said, she called her friends and family to make sure they were safe. Among them was Martinez, who was anxiously drinking coffee inside her home down the street with her daughter, Zoe, and 13-year-old son, Jared.
For several hours, SWAT teams went door-to-door, searching for the suspect, and dozens of police vehicles flew up and down the street, lights flashing and sirens blaring.
“The police never stopped passing by my house,” Martinez said.
After the group in her backyard slowly trickled out, Martinez and her kids walked down the sidewalk to see what had become of their neighborhood. They silently passed an American flag blanket crumpled up on the grass. Wagons, scooters, and tricycles were abandoned. A lone marching band drum was discarded on the sidewalk.
“The street is empty – only soldiers, toys, bikes,” Martinez said softly, standing on the sidewalk beside her kids hours after the shooting. Zoe still wore her sparkling headband with red, white, and blue pompoms.
Source: USA TODAY