A gunman perched on a rooftop has opened fire on families waving flags and children riding bicycles during an Independence Day parade near the US city of Chicago, killing at least six people and wounding 36 others.
The shooting in Highland Park, a community of about 30,000 residents some 40km (25 miles) north of Chicago, Illinois, caused panicked mayhem on Monday as hundreds of marchers, including parents with strollers, fled the scene in terror.
Hours later, authorities said a man named as a “person of interest” in the shooting was taken into police custody.
He was identified as 22-year-old Robert E Crimo III.
Christopher Covelli, a spokesperson for the Lake County Major Crime Task Force, told reporters the attacker apparently used a “high-powered rifle” to fire from a spot atop a building where he was “very difficult to see”.
“Very random, very intentional and a very sad day,” he said.
The shooting comes as the United States struggles to stem a surge in gun violence and after a string of recent deadly incidents, including a massacre at a Texas primary school, has renewed calls for stricter gun regulations in the country.
“Our community was terrorised by an act of violence that has shaken us to our core. Our hearts go out to the families of the victims during this devastating time,” Mayor Nancy Rotering told reporters on Monday afternoon.
The Chicago Sun-Times newspaper reported that the parade began at about 10am local time (15:00 GMT) but was suddenly halted 10 minutes later after shots were fired.
“It sounded like fireworks going off,” said retired doctor Richard Kaufman who was standing across the street from where the gunman opened fire, adding that he heard about 200 shots.
“It was pandemonium,” he said. “People were covered in blood tripping over each other.”
Amarani Garcia, who was at the parade with her young daughter, told the local ABC affiliate she heard gunfire nearby, then a pause for what she suspected was reloading, and then more shots again.
There were “people screaming and running. It was just really traumatising”, Garcia said. “I was very terrified. I hid with my daughter actually in a little store. It just makes me feel like we’re not safe anymore.”
Debbie Glickman, a Highland Park resident, said she was on a parade float with coworkers and the group was preparing to turn onto the main route when she saw people running from the area.
“People started saying: ‘There’s a shooter, there’s a shooter, there’s a shooter,’” Glickman told the Associated Press news agency. “So we just ran. We just ran. It’s like mass chaos down there.”
The tragedy unfolding in Highland Park is devastating. I have been in contact with Mayor Rotering and have offered our support, and the Chicago Police Department is providing assistance. We grieve with the families of the deceased and injured as well as
— Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot (@chicagosmayor) July 4, 2022
‘Enough is enough’
Highland Park Police Chief Lou Jogmen said a police officer pulled over Crimo III about 8km (five miles) north of the shooting scene, several hours after police released the man’s photo and an image of his silver Honda Fit, and warned the public that he was likely armed and dangerous.
Police said they did not know what the motive was for the shooting in Highland Park.
Nicolas Toledo, a man in his late 70s, was the first victim identified as of late Monday by his family. He was in a wheelchair and had not wanted to attend the parade, his family said in a statement to local media. But he required full-time care and his family said they had not wanted to miss the event.
“My grandfather Nicolas Toledo father of 8 and grandfather to many left us this morning July 4th, what was supposed to be a fun family day turned into a horrific nightmare for us all,” his granddaughter Xochil Toledo said in a statement shared by the family on social media.
“As a family we are broken, and numb,” she added.
Another victim was Jacki Sundheim, a teacher at a local synagogue in Highland Park. The North Shore Congregation Israel confirmed her death in an email to congregants.
“There are no words sufficient to express the depth of our grief for Jacki’s death and sympathy for her family and loved ones,” the synagogue said.
A third man killed was a Mexican national, Roberto Velasco, Mexico’s director for North American affairs, said on Twitter Monday. He said two other Mexicans were wounded.
NorthShore University Health Center received 26 patients after the attack. All but one had gunshot wounds, said Dr Brigham Temple, medical director of emergency preparedness. Their ages ranged from 8 to 85, and Temple estimated that four or five patients were children.
Temple said 19 of them were treated and discharged. Others were transferred to other hospitals, while two patients in stable condition remained at the Highland Park hospital.
“It is devastating that a celebration of America was ripped apart by our uniquely American plague,” Illinois Governor JB Pritzker said at a news conference.
“I’m furious because it does not have to be this way … while we celebrate the Fourth of July just once a year, mass shootings have become a weekly – yes, weekly – American tradition.”
US Congressman Brad Schneider, whose district includes Highland Park, said he and his campaign team had been gathering at the start of the parade when the shooting started.
“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!” he wrote on Twitter.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot also said the attack was “devastating”.
“I have been in contact with Mayor Rotering and have offered our support, and the Chicago Police Department is providing assistance. We grieve with the families of the deceased and injured as well as the entire Highland Park community,” she said in a tweet.
Gun violence has been a problem across the US for years, drawing condemnation and calls for gun control, especially in the aftermath of mass shootings.
Those calls grew louder following a recent attack at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 19 children and two teachers, and after a racist shooting at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, left 10 Black people dead.
Late last month, US President Joe Biden signed into law the first major federal gun reform in 30 years. The bill includes provisions to toughen background checks for the youngest gun buyers, keep firearms from more domestic violence offenders, and help states put in place red-flag laws that make it easier for authorities to take weapons from people deemed to be dangerous.
In a statement on Monday afternoon on the attack in Highland Park, Biden expressed shock at “the senseless gun violence that has yet again brought grief to an American community on this Independence Day”.
He pledged assistance to the Illinois community and said federal law enforcement were assisting in the search for the attacker.
“I recently signed the first major bipartisan gun reform legislation in almost thirty years into law, which includes actions that will save lives. But there is much more work to do, and I’m not going to give up fighting the epidemic of gun violence,” Biden said.
The US has seen 308 mass shootings so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a US non-profit that defines a mass shooting as any incident in which four or more people are shot or killed, not including the attacker.