Highland Park Victims and Heroes

Floor Speech

Date: July 15, 2022
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. SCHNEIDER. Madam Speaker, I rise today to honor the brave men and women of Highland Park.

Independence Day in Highland Park, as it is in so many other places around our country, is a special day. Today families gather--whether it be at a barbecue or a park or wherever it might be--and they celebrate the birth of our country and the ideals of who we are as a nation and all that we aspire to be.

The Highland Park parade is a very, very important centerpiece of our community. Prior to COVID, families would gather, putting their chairs out sometimes the day of or even 2 days before planning exactly where they would sit to have the best view knowing that their kids or maybe grandkids, their classmates, and members of their church or synagogue or their service organization would be marching in the parade, and they would want to be able to look, wave, and say hello.

This year was different though. This year was the first parade since 2019 because in 2020 and 2021 the parade was canceled due to COVID.

There was a special excitement, and there was a special feeling in anticipation of the parade this year. Finally, we were back together as a community.

Highland Park is a special community. It is a city of roughly 30,000 people but with a small-town feel. Neighbors look after each other. People know each other. The restaurants in the community are frequented by the locals. Everyone has their favorite, and you are seeing old friends every time you go in.

This year the parade was going to be special. At 10 o'clock, the time the parade starts every year, the excitement swells. Groups start walking along the path up St. Johns Avenue and up the hill to Central where everyone takes a left turn. They walk across the train tracks, proceed past 1st Street, then 2nd, all the way through the downtown to Green Bay, and then down the hill toward the Post Office reaching Sunset, and turning into Sunset Park at the end of the parade.

The parade started on time at 10 o'clock. The first groups walked up the hill and made that left turn. People were cheering, celebrating, and smiling. The first groups made the left turn, crossed 1st, crossed 2nd. The second group passed, the third, and the fourth.

At 10:14 everything changed. What initially sounded like firecrackers--and sure, why not? it is the Fourth of July--people quickly realized it was a different sound altogether. Those who were right there at the corner of 2nd and Central looked and saw that people were falling and people were bleeding.

At 10:14 a.m. on July 4th, 2022, the Independence Day parade was shattered when a monster with a high-powered military-style assault weapon, having climbed a roof dressed as a woman to hide himself as he would leave, leaned over the edge and fired 83 shots in 1 minute. Eighty-three shots struck the parade goers below killing seven, wounding dozens, and changing a community forever.

Madam Speaker, I rise today to honor my community. I rise today to talk about those who were murdered, to talk about the survivors, and to share their stories. It is important to share their stories, and it is important that these stories are told and are heard.

Let me begin by talking about the seven wonderful people, the precious lives that we lost: Stephen Straus, Katherine Goldstein, Nicolas Toledo-Zaragoza, Jackie Sundheim, Eduardo Uvaldo, Irina McCarthy, and Kevin McCarthy.

Stephen Straus, an 88-year-old longtime resident of Highland Park, still commuted by train to work in downtown Chicago to his office 5 days a week working as a financial adviser. His niece described him as ``a big, big oak tree, an umbrella of well-being for all of us.''

Stephen is survived by his wife, Linda, with whom he had been married for almost 60 years, 60 wonderful years. He leaves his brother, his two sons, his four grandchildren.

On that tragic day, Stephen's son was in San Francisco. He had called to wish him a happy Fourth of July, but Stephen didn't answer the phone. Of course, as the news from Highland Park started coming out, his son soon realized that his father would not be calling him back.

Katherine Goldstein was the best mom in the world to her daughters. Neighbors described her as a welcoming and lovely person, bringing them baked goods during the holidays.

On July Fourth, Katherine and one of her two daughters decided to leave the house and have fun because Katherine had been mourning the recent passing of her mother.

As the bullets started raining down, her daughter turned and said to run. But Katherine fell to the ground. Her daughter Cassie shared this on the news in an interview. She turned to her mother, saw that her mother was gone. She knelt down beside her mother and said good-bye, but, Mom, I have to keep running, as the bullets continued to fly.

Nicolas Toledo-Zaragoza was a 76-year-old retiree from Morelos, Mexico. He spent many years in the Chicagoland area. He had returned to the United States to spend time with his family before fulfilling his desire to rest in his beloved homeland of Morelos.

Nicolas was a loving father to eight children and 25 grandchildren.

On the day of the parade, Nicolas was smiling in his wheelchair as horses marched down the street when his family began to live a nightmare with sounds of gunshots. Nicolas was suddenly struck and killed. Members of his family were also wounded.

Now, Nicolas' family looks to him as a guardian angel as they work together to hold their family united in their grief.

Jackie Sundheim was 63 years old. She loved to rescue dogs and was a lifelong employee, member, and centerpiece of North Shore Congregation Israel. Her kindness and work touched everyone in her congregation and even those beyond.

She was the events coordinator. She worked with everyone in the congregation who celebrated bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings, events that were celebrations to bring family together. But she also worked with the caterers and the florists, many of whom came to her funeral.

Jackie never lacked a smile or a hug for anybody. In fact, she was there for everybody.

She is survived by her husband, her daughter, and an entire community devastated at the loss of such a caring person.

Eduardo Uvaldo is survived by his wife, Maria, 4 daughters, 12 grandchildren, and 6 great-grandchildren. Actually, I think he has 13 grandchildren.

He was born in Mexico and was loved as a jovial bowling champion. I talked to his kids about his love for bowling.

Eduardo happily attended the parade with his children and grandchildren. Later that day, after the shooting, his daughters were pleading with the entire community on social media to join them in prayer as Eduardo fought valiantly to survive. The family began to pray for strength. The community prayed with them.

Eduardo was incredibly affectionate with everyone in his family but especially his grandchildren. He loved seeing and spending time on these special occasions and would take a photo with his grandson every year. On that Monday, that fateful Monday, his daughter couldn't take a photo, and now she believes that God did not want her to have a reminder of that day.

Irina and Kevin McCarthy met while working together. They married about 5 years ago and moved to Highland Park in 2018. The couple had a 2-year-old son named Aiden, whom Irina and her husband, Kevin, were obsessed with.

On July Fourth, they joined together and went to the parade. They were right at the corner. When the gunshots started, Kevin and Irina did what all parents do; they covered Aiden's body to protect him. In defending their son, they sacrificed themselves.

Aiden was found wandering the area, covered in blood after the gunfire. The Ring family took Aiden to their home. He played with their 2-year-old daughter after they cleaned him up and watched TV with the Ring grandfather.

Eventually, Aiden was reunited with his grandfather, of course, because Aiden was now an orphan. His parents had been murdered. When Aiden's grandfather picked him up, Aiden had a single question: Are mommy and daddy coming soon?

Irina was 35 years old. Kevin was 37. They were deprived of the most precious thing, being parents to their child, being able to raise him, to celebrate his birthdays, his adulthood, wedding, and maybe children of his own.

The community is united behind Aiden. The community struggles to fathom how this is possible.

Aiden will now grow up having only the memory of his parents, not the hugs and not the love that he deserves.

Aiden is not the only innocent child whose life has been changed. Many have been injured and wounded. Among them, most grievously, is Cooper Roberts, a vibrant, beautiful 8-year-old boy who, as I speak, is fighting for his life in the hospital.

Cooper was at the parade with his family, his twin brother, his parents. His mother was also shot. His brother was wounded. When his mother learned, after her surgery, that Cooper's spinal cord had been severed, she demanded to be immediately released from the hospital so she could be by his side, as every mother would do.

Cooper's injuries, besides the severed spinal cord, continue. He has had a torn esophagus, infections, and a collapsed lung. Already, Cooper has had seven surgeries and is kept sedated because of the pain.

During a brief moment of consciousness, Cooper asked to see his twin brother and his dog. The family continues to keep the community updated, and our entire community and I are praying for Cooper's recovery.

Cooper's life and the lives of many others have been saved because of the work of emergency medics, police, firefighters, nurses, and doctors, who have gone to extraordinary lengths to meet the needs of our community. I would like to take some time to reflect on and celebrate some of those heroes.

I mentioned the parade had just started. Many groups had gone by. One of the groups that had just crossed over Second Street were the firefighters on the truck celebrating. Because in Highland Park, as I mentioned, we are, like everywhere around the country, a small town where it is home for so many people, the fire truck wasn't just the firefighters on the truck. It was their families, their wives, and their kids because they are all a part of our community.

As the shots rang out, firefighters realized what was going on. Concerned for their kids, they rushed the truck ahead to keep their kids safe. But those firefighters, without hesitation of a second, turned around and ran back to the corner into the fire to make sure that everyone was safe.

The Highland Park Fire Department transported 24 patients and administered CPR to many more. Highland Park Fire Chief Joe Schrage recalls one man, on his own, tied 15 tourniquets that day--one man, 15 tourniquets.

It is more than just the firefighters. I will come back to the police in a second. These are trained professionals. They behaved the way they were trained, and they were extraordinary.

There are also many people who may have been medically trained, but not for a situation like this. They responded as true American heroes do.

Bobby Shapiro is a tech salesman. In fact, he has no medical training. But suddenly, in the flash of a moment, he became a first responder and began doing whatever he could to help.

He found an elderly man with a gunshot wound to his thigh and abdomen. Bobby and another bystander gave the man chest compressions. They applied pressure to his wounds as Dr. Wendy Rush, an anesthesiologist at the parade, helped the man to breathe. After 30 minutes, Bobby boarded an ambulance with the elderly man and stayed by his side all the way to the hospital. The man Bobby stood by was Stephen Straus, one of the seven victims that day.

Bobby wasn't alone, though. Police Commander Gerry Cameron also attended to Stephen Straus. He made sure that Stephen Straus wouldn't be alone because, as I said, Highland Park is a community that many of us call home, and we treat each other as if they are family.

David Baum, Dr. David Baum, a fixture of Highland Park, who has been there so long--I shouldn't say ``so long.'' Dr. Baum delivered our two sons, nearly 30 years ago, our oldest son, and then less than 2 years later, our younger son.

I have seen Dr. Baum under pressure. I have seen Dr. Baum perform with care and compassion.

Dr. Baum, after the shooting, after sheltering initially behind a bench with David Saleck, rushed to treat bodies he could only describe as having wartime injuries. He didn't know where the shooter was. He didn't know if the shooting had finished. In fact, he didn't know that the shooter wouldn't be caught for 8 hours. But he knew he had to help, and that is what he did.

Lake County Sheriff John Idleburg was waiting to start the parade. I walk in many parades with John. I know him as a wonderful person. My group was in the same location, and as soon as the firing started, the people who were waiting all immediately cleared out of the area. Not John Idleburg.

John Idleburg, as he stepped onto the parade route, saw a group of people running toward him in the wrong direction, shouting: Shots fired, shots fired. Instinctively, as the marine and longtime law enforcement officer that he is, he ran the other direction, toward the gunshots, unarmed.

Sheriff Idleburg remembers seeing a lot of blood on the sidewalks and street when they arrived at the corner of Central and Second. He immediately, with the assistance of another officer, ordered all available resources to the scene.

As he watched victims being attended to, he noticed a woman on her stomach with blood coming from her back. Sheriff Idleburg immediately began to apply pressure to her wound with gauze that was provided by an emergency worker. As he applied the pressure, the sheriff comforted the woman. ``I am here for you,'' he said. ``I am not going anywhere,'' he told her.

He stayed with that woman for 30 minutes as they waited for an ambulance while her husband coordinated care of her daughter who they had brought along.

These are the stories of my community, of my friends. I mentioned the police and fire departments. I mentioned that the police or the fire department transported 24 patients, administered CPR, and applied tourniquets. The police, who were also a part of the parade, were there in the blink of an eye. Without hesitation, relying on their training and instinct, they immediately responded to the needs of our community.

An incredible story is Highland Park Officer Ginger Stokes. Officer Stokes had been with the police department since 1997, working in the Juvenile Investigation Unit, the Patrol Division, the Crisis Intervention Team.

During the attack, Officer Stokes had in her car--in addition to her vest she wears every day that would not stop a rifle round, she grabbed her rifle-rated vest, a second vest.

As she saw the injured, she saw one in particular, an injured woman, she took off that rifle-rated vest and put it over the woman. Then, despite not having that protective vest, she ran back into the line of fire.

Officer Stokes' astounding heroism, Commander Gerry Cameron's astounding heroism, in fact, the heroism of all the first responders, police and fire, in Highland Park, is nothing short of amazing.

There are no words I or the community can fully express to convey the appreciation and gratitude we have for them. Without the immense work taken on by first responders that day, I fear that the tragedy could have been far, far worse.

The first responders and the civilians who went to help, I thank and praise all of these people and am grateful for them, and I pray for their well-being. I ask you to keep them in your prayers as well.

Our community is in pain as we think about the loss we have experienced, the members of our community who are gone. Our first responders share that grief with us.

The pace of their work doesn't slow down. In fact, for an entire week, the blocks around the shooting were cordoned off as a crime scene. The police were searching the area, collecting evidence. Other police officers were making sure that it stayed secure, protecting the area.

If you looked at the police cars or the names on the police cars, it didn't say Highland Park. It said Glencoe, Deerfield, Niles, Morton Grove, Prospect Heights, and so many more because first responders from the entire area around Highland Park came to help us.

It wasn't just in the days after, keeping the area safe and secure; it was at the immediate time of the event. First responders from around our community as well as the State Police and Federal agencies, FBI, ATF, all descended immediately onto Highland Park.

I had a chance later in the day to see the command center where they were focused. With incredible professionalism, incredible focus, and amazingly swift action, they identified the shooter, located the shooter, and apprehended him. If not for all these people, their work, their diligence, their professionalism, their excellence, I don't know that the shooter would be captured today.

Following the shooting, the community has united in an extraordinary way. Others have come to help.

This is my community. These were my neighbors. All of the people at the parade who experienced this shooting, who will be forever affected by this shooting, are the people I live with and I see every day.

I know their grief, their struggle, their anger, and that is one of the reasons why I am so grateful for all of the people from areas around who have come to support us.

One example is at the high school. They set up a response center to provide counseling services for anybody who might need it. I believe there are 800 counselors that have come already to the high school to talk to residents, anyone who stops by.

Already, in just a matter of 10 days, more than 3,000 people have received comfort and counsel, trying to get through a very difficult time.

There are other stories. After the shooting, as the police gathered and the first responders, food trucks started serving meals to the responders for free. Soon, customers made donations to cover the costs of those meals. A generous family called the owners of the food truck and said they would pay for every meal provided to first responders on Friday.

Highland Park is strong. Highland Park will get through this time, in no small part because of the care, love, and compassion expressed by our friends and neighbors.

We will lean on each other. We will lift each other up. We couldn't do it without the love that came into our community. But as Rabbi Wendi Geffen said at the funeral for Jacki Sundheim, we shouldn't have to be here. We shouldn't have to be here.

No one should be able to get a weapon of war, a gun designed for one purpose, to kill human beings with extreme efficiency, ultimate devastation, to kill others as quickly and rapidly as possible.

I hope that no one ever has to come back to this podium and share stories of a mass shooting in their community like I have today, like what we saw in Uvalde or in Buffalo. That is why I have called for a ban on assault weapons.

Gun violence is a scourge in our country that takes many forms. Every day, 111 people die from gun violence, whether from shootings in the street, gang violence, or domestic violence.

Two-thirds of the deaths by gun violence in this country are suicides. There are far too many accidental shootings, of guns left carelessly on a coffee table or some other accident that would be so easy to avoid.

I hope my colleagues will work to try to reduce the gun violence we have in this country, which is unlike anything in any other country in the world.

But today, today, I stand to honor the memories and lives of the loved ones we lost, people who truly were the center of the universe for their families and pillars of strength in their community; to honor people like Bobby Shapiro, Sheriff Idleburg, Officer Stokes, Commander Cameron, and it is moving to hear the stories of so many others.

I express my sincerest thanks to all those who played a role in saving lives on July 4, but also thanks to the many people who have spoken up and shared their stories, people at the vigils in churches and synagogues in Highland Park, at Sunset Park.

On Wednesday night, people gathered together in a moment of silence-- as we did here in this very body at the same time--at City Hall in Highland Park.

The people who came to Washington with March Fourth, a group that, on Wednesday, rallied for changes in our gun laws to make a difference in lives and fight to make sure no other community experiences what we have in Highland Park, in Uvalde, Buffalo, El Paso, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh, Orlando, Denver. The list just goes on and on.

We can't wait any longer to take meaningful action on this violence. Our grandkids can't afford to wait. Our kids shouldn't be made to wait. Our entire country deserves better.

Madam Speaker, I close by saying this: The last 11 days have been incredibly painful for my community. Highland Park will recover. We have experienced something that no other community should ever experience and too many communities suffer from each and every day.

It breaks my heart to realize that in all likelihood, I will not be the last Member of Congress giving this speech. It is possible--it is possible-- that, in fact, this may not be the last time I have to give a speech like this.

Enough is enough. I hope the Members of this body will find the courage to take action and save lives. Let's start by getting the assault weapons ban in place, these military weapons of war designed to kill and devastate off our streets.

Let's always honor the memory of those who should be with us here today but were murdered in the primes of their lives. May their memories and the memories of all lost to gun violence forever be a blessing.

Madam Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.