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Highland Park comes together one year after tragedy

Memorial ceremony and community walk show suburb is “Highland Park Strong” following last year’s July 4 mass shooting.

The Highland Park community gathered Tuesday to mark one year since a shooter wreaked havoc on July 4 paradegoers, killing seven and wounding dozens more.

Residents honored the memory of those killed at a somber remembrance ceremony that started at 10 a.m. at Highland Park City Hall. Those gathered held a minute of silence at 10:14 a.m., to mark the exact time police say the first shots were fired.

“This morning, we remember those who were murdered and those whose lives were forever altered. Our hearts will always ache for the families and friends who were left behind to grapple with the pain of their loss,” Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering said in her remarks at the ceremony. “There is nothing we can say that will fill the holes torn in their hearts or to heal those who were irreparably harmed.”

Families of the victims sat next to each other, together in their grief, wiping away tears as Rotering addressed the crowd. Among them was Alejo Toledo, son of Nicolas Toledo, who was fatally shot in the incident. Alejo Toledo and his family wore black shirts with an image of their beloved Nicolas.

“I carry my father in my heart. I have wonderful memories of him,” Alejo Toledo said. “My family and I are all here united. I want to say thank you for all the support people have given us. This is a very united city.”

Hundreds of attendees donned blue shirts with “We are Highland Park” or “Highland Park Strong” emblazoned on them, a small example of the way the community came together in the wake of the shooting.

Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth were in attendance.

Instead of a parade, Highland Park held a “community walk” along last year’s route, hoping to “reclaim” the space, the city said on its website.

Organizers said the events were developed using a trauma-informed approach based on conversations with the community.

“We reflected on our own hearts,” Rotering told reporters ahead of the ceremony. “We thought about the very real need to reflect and remember the tragedy that happened here, but also recognized, especially for our children, we don’t want them to not have the opportunity to celebrate the Fourth of July.”

Rotering said that based on feedback from the community, it was clear that a traditional celebration couldn’t go ahead.

“Nobody wanted a parade, it was inappropriate, but it was important for us to say evil doesn’t win and this is our parade route. And this is our community that we are taking back,” Rotering said.

The community gathered for a picnic after the ceremony and walk. Later, Gary Sinise and his Lt. Dan Band held a concert and a drone show lit up the sky in lieu of fireworks.