Evanston residents express heartbreak, shock in aftermath of Highland Park shooting


Daily file photo by Katie Pach

The intersection of Central Street and Reese Avenue. The Evanston Fourth of July Parade was supposed to take place along Central Street prior to its cancellation.

Iris Swarthout, Senior Staffer

Content warning: this story contains mentions of gun violence and death.

Maliwan Diemer woke up Monday morning planning to participate in Evanston’s Fourth of July parade that afternoon.

Just before noon, Diemer, the artistic and executive director of Chicago Ballet Arts, was one of the parade participants alerted to the event’s cancellation. This is the first year the organization would have taken part in the parade after moving to the area in 2020 and facing a two-year hiatus on in-person celebrations due to COVID-19, Diemer said. 

The cancellation announcement came just hours after seven people were killed and more than 30 injured in a mass shooting at the Highland Park Fourth of July parade — just 15 miles north of Evanston.

“It was a devastating day, a heartbreaking day,” Diemer said. “Some (Chicago Ballet Arts) students who weren’t part of the parade were physically close to the Highland Park route … Our families were deeply impacted by what was happening.”

Diemer said she first heard about the shooting when a Chicago Ballet Arts parent from the area texted her about it just after 10 a.m.

She then contacted the Evanston Fourth of July Association about the parade, but received no response. Once Diemer called 311, the non-emergency city line, she said she was finally informed the parade and other Evanston Fourth of July events were canceled. 

“The cancellation was absolutely the right call,” she said. “Our students were so excited about the parade … but I know they all understand, and they are all very aware of the events that took place.”

Jamie Black, the Fourth of July Association’s celebration manager, said he was on standby after hearing news about the shooting from an Evanston Police Department officer at about 11 a.m. 

A little after 12 p.m., Black heard the parade would be canceled. However, he said many residents did not know about the mass shooting and were still arriving on-site at about 12:30, when they were scheduled to show. 

Due to logistical challenges surrounding phoning parade participants and the short notice, Black said the association “probably dropped the ball” on swiftly informing participants about the cancellation. However, he said he had a few people stay back at the parade site to inform people the event was canceled.

Black said some of the morning’s events, like the fun run, were still ongoing when the Fourth of July Association was getting dispatches from EPD of the shooting. He called the debacle “chaos” and said it was “foreign territory” for the organization. 

However, Diemer said she felt the city’s speed of alerting residents about the tragedy aligned well with how quickly the events of the day unfolded. 

EPD Traffic Unit Sgt. Scott Sophier, who said he convened with city officials along with EPD Command Staff after learning of the shooting, was involved in the conversation about whether to continue with the remaining Fourth of July celebrations.

“The decision was made to cancel all events due to the shooter not being in custody and the motivation of the incident not being known,” Sophier said in an email to The Daily. “The City of Evanston made immediate notifications of the cancellation via press releases and social media.”

Sophier added that EPD officers were deployed to Central Street to inform attendees of the shooting and provide security. Black, who was downtown in the early afternoon, said he noticed the streets were eerily empty.

Robert “Bobby” E. Crimo III, who was arrested in connection to the shooting in Lake Forest, Illinois, around 6:30 p.m. Monday after a police chase, was on the run for about eight hours before being caught by authorities. During this time, it was reported he stopped by Madison, Wisconsin, where he contemplated carrying out another attack before returning to Illinois, according to Crimo’s testimony. Crimo is due for court July 28, where he will face a preliminary hearing. He has been charged with seven counts of first-degree murder and is expected to face additional charges for those injured.

The Highland Park shooting occurred among a string of nationwide gun massacres, with more than 310 mass shootings in 2022 as of Tuesday.  

For Diemer, the shooting will shape the future of Chicago Ballet Arts’ safety protocol regarding large gatherings.

“This is a game changer in terms of how we approach these types of events,” she said. “We’re in a place in our country where unfortunately our active shooter drill is something we need to have a plan for.”

Diemer said her organization plans to provide a space over the next few weeks for students to discuss their thoughts and feelings surrounding the shooting and process their anxieties in a healthy way.

Black said he was almost brought to tears on Monday. The association had put a year’s worth of work into planning the parade — only for the day to end in tragedy. 

“We didn’t have a parade or fireworks in 2020 or 2021 … (this year) being our 100th year anniversary,” Black said. “It was disappointing and sad and so senseless.”

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Twitter: @swarthout_iris

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