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Might be time to leave the U.S., Highland Park locals muse after July Fourth rampage

HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. — It was 10:17 a.m. on the Fourth of July, central daylight time, when Shelly Sella's cellphone rang. She remembers the time precisely. What she heard — it was her daughter, Lauren — she will never forget.
Dozens of mourners gather for a vigil near Central Avenue and St. Johns Avenue in downtown Highland Park, one day after a gunman killed at least seven people and wounded dozens more by firing an AR-15-style rifle from a rooftop onto a crowd attending Highland Park's Fourth of July parade, Tuesday, July 5, 2022 in Highland Park, Ill.. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chicago Sun-Times-Anthony Vazquez via AP)

HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. — It was 10:17 a.m. on the Fourth of July, central daylight time, when Shelly Sella's cellphone rang. She remembers the time precisely. 

What she heard — it was her daughter, Lauren — she will never forget. 

"Screaming: 'There's a shooter, there's a shooter, you gotta come get us, you gotta come get us,'" Sella recalled. 

"There's no mother on planet Earth, I don't care how old your child is, that wants to get that call." 

Lauren and her friend Amanda Levy, who was visiting from Connecticut, were at the Fourth of July parade Monday in the tony Chicago suburb of Highland Park when the shots rang out. 

"I think I blacked out," said Levy, 28, as she described seeing some of the floats in the parade come to an unexpected stop.  

"I was confused. And then we saw the band running on the sidewalks. And that's when I looked at (Lauren) and we saw a cop running the opposite way."

Seven people were killed and 38 people were injured Monday when a lone gunman, perched on a rooftop and disguised in women's clothing, opened fire on spectators while they were watching the parade pass through the suburban downtown.

Some of the wounded remain in critical condition, and police say the death toll could rise.

Authorities identified six of the seven victims as Katherine Goldstein, 64; Irina McCarthy, 35, and her 37-year-old husband Kevin McCarthy; Jacquelyn Sundheim, 63; and Stephen Straus, 88, all from Highland Park; and Nicolas Toledo-Zaragoza, 78, of Mexico.

The McCarthys were at the parade with their two-year-old son, who survived unscathed after being shielded from the hail of bullets by his parents, according to locals.

The seventh victim, 69-year-old Eduardo Uvaldo, was attending the parade with family members when he was struck in the arm and the back of the head. He died of his injuries in hospital early Wednesday. 

Police have charged Robert E. "Bobby" Crimo III with seven counts of first-degree murder, and expect to file additional charges, officials say. Crimo was ordered held without bail Wednesday

He confessed to police about the shooting, saying he fled to Madison, Wisc., about two hours away, and contemplated shooting up an event there before returning to Illinois where he was arrested, authorities said.

Meanwhile, as the intersection of Central Avenue and Green Bay Road was partially reopened to traffic, investigators gathered up the artifacts of an American holiday celebration — folding chairs, picnic coolers, blankets and bicycles — and ferried them away with a U-Haul truck. 

A modest collection of flowers and handwritten expressions of grief has been building for days as residents and visitors stop by the scene, stepping over a gauntlet of police tape to pay their respects. 

"I don't like this world that we live in at all," Sella said. 

"I have serious concerns about where we've been, where we're going. And quite honestly, I have contemplated several times recently leaving this country." 

She's not alone. 

"I don't think that America is exceptional — you know, they always talk about American exceptionalism. I think that's garbage," said Irwin Silbernik, a 70-year-old music teacher who's lived in Highland Park for 36 years. 

"I think if I were a little bit younger, I would move. The thing is, with all the problems we have in this country, is it really better somewhere else?" 

Jim Perlman, a lifelong Highland Park resident, said the idea of moving to a different country has been a hot topic in town of late. 

"The way the momentum is going, a lot of people are talking about it and people want to leave," said Perlman, whose apartment is less than two blocks from where the shooting occurred. 

"They don't feel safe. Children don't feel safe at the schools … it's just like a snowball going down a hill and getting worse and worse." 

Where would they go? Sella has family in Israel; others are thinking closer to home. 

"Everybody talks about Canada," Perlman said. 

Silbernik, too. 

"I've been to Canada, I love Canada — that would be where I think about moving because it's the most similar to what I'm used to," he said.

"But I don't know enough about it to tell you that it's better." 

The violence might not have been the only Fourth of July mass shooting that day if not for police in Richmond, Va., who said Wednesday they believe they thwarted what sounded like a similar plot. 

Two men were arrested and charged with being non-US citizens with firearms after a "hero citizen" overheard a conversation about the plan and called in a tip, said Richmond police Chief Gerald Smith. 

Two assault rifles, a handgun and 223 rounds of ammunition were seized.

"I think I'm like any other citizen who's just outraged at this — this has got to stop," Smith said. "It's just got to stop."

Crimo legally purchased five guns, including the rifle used in the attack and one found in a vehicle with him when he was arrested, as well as handguns and other firearms seized at his father's home. 

Illinois has a so-called red flag law designed to stop dangerous people before they kill, but it requires family members, relatives, roommates or police to ask a judge to order guns seized. 

Police on Tuesday described two separate such red-flag encounters with Crimo in 2019, including one where police seized his knife collection after he threatened to "kill everyone," but no formal complaints were ever filed.

Monday's shooting came just six weeks after a deadly elementary school rampage in Uvalde, Texas, killed 19 children and two teachers, shocking — but not surprising — a country now utterly awash in staggering firepower. 

Lake County Assistant State's Attorney Ben Dillon said in court that the gunman left the shells of 83 bullets and three ammunition magazines on the rooftop where he staged the attack.

Federal agents were reviewing the gunman's online profiles, and a preliminary examination of his internet history indicated that he had researched mass killings and had downloaded multiple photos depicting violent acts, including a beheading, a law enforcement official said.

The official could not discuss details of the investigation publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 6, 2022.

— With files from The Associated Press

James McCarten, The Canadian Press

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