HOUSTON — A shooting that left at least six people dead at an Independence Day parade in a Chicago suburb rattled Monday's celebrations across the U.S. and further rocked a country already awash in turmoil over high court rulings on abortion and guns as well as hearings on the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Police also said two dozen other people were hospitalized after the shooting in Highland Park. Authorities asked residents to shelter in place while they hunt down a suspect.
The parade began around 10 a.m. but was suddenly halted 10 minutes later after shots were fired. Hundreds of parade-goers — some visibly bloodied — fled the parade route, leaving behind chairs, baby strollers and blankets.
“On a day that we came together to celebrate community and freedom, we are instead mourning the tragic loss of life and struggling with the terror that was brought upon us," Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering said.
News of yet another mass shooting came as the nation tried to find cause to celebrate its founding and the bonds that still hold it together. It was supposed to be a day for taking off work, flocking to parades, devouring hot dogs and burgers at backyard barbecues and gathering under a canopy of stars and exploding fireworks.
“The Fourth of July is a sacred day in our country — it’s a time to celebrate the goodness of our nation, the only nation on Earth founded based on an idea: that all people are created equal,” President Joe Biden tweeted earlier on Monday. “Make no mistake, our best days still lie ahead.”
But the shooting in Highland Park left a chaotic, discordant July 4 scene.
Video shot by a Chicago Sun-Times journalist after the gunfire rang out shows a band on a float continuing to play as people run past, screaming. Parade-goer Gina Troiani told The Associated Press she fled with her 5-year-old son's bike, decorated with red and blue curled ribbons, through a neighborhood to get away from the parade route.
At first, she thought the loud sounds were fireworks — until she heard people yell about a shooter.
These are precarious times: An economic recession lurks, and the Highland Park shooting will weigh on a national psyche already raw from mass shootings like those seen recently at a Texas elementary school and a New York supermarket.
Sharp social and political divisions have also been laid bare by recent Supreme Court decisions overturning the constitutional right to abortion and striking down a New York law limiting who may carry a gun in public.
“Independence Day doesn’t feel like much of a celebration when our basic rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are on the chopping block,” New York Attorney General Tish James, a Democrat, tweeted. “Today, I encourage you to imagine what this nation could be if and when we live up to our values.”
However, many had reason to gather and celebrate amid easing coronavirus precautions for the first time in three years.
Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July hot dog eating contest returned to its traditional location in Brooklyn’s Coney Island neighborhood after two years elsewhere thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s beautiful to be back here” in front of a throng of spectators, Joey “Jaws” Chestnut told ESPN after winning the men's competition by downing 63 hot dogs and buns.
Women’s record-holder Miki Sudo chomped 40 wieners and buns to win her event.
Baltimore on Monday also resumed its Independence Day celebrations after a two-year hiatus, to the delight of residents like Kirstan Monroe.
“I'm happy to see that downtown is getting back together, how it's supposed to be,” she told WBAL-TV.
Colorful displays big and small were scheduled to light up the night sky in cities from New York to Seattle to Chicago to Dallas. However, others, particularly in drought-stricken and wildfire-prone regions of the West, will forgo them.
Phoenix is also again going without fireworks — not because of the pandemic or fire concerns but due to supply-chain issues.
In emotional ceremonies across the country, some will swear oaths of citizenship, qualifying them to vote in the upcoming midterm elections.
During a ceremony for naturalized citizens held at Mount Vernon, the Virginia home of George Washington, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told 52 people originally from 42 different countries that they were essential to building a strong labor force.
“Immigrants strengthen our workforce, and, in the process, help drive the resiliency and vitality of our economy,” Yellen said in remarks prepared for the Monday event.
For many, July 4 was also a chance to set aside political differences and celebrate unity, reflecting on the revolution that gave rise to history’s longest-living democracy.
“There’s always something to divide or unite us," says Eli Merritt, a political historian at Vanderbilt University whose upcoming book traces the fraught founding of the United States in 1776.
But he sees the Jan. 6 hearings probing last year's storming of the U.S. Capitol as a reason for hope, an opportunity to rally behind democratic institutions. Even though not all Americans or their elected representatives agree with the committee's work, Merritt is heartened by the fact that it's at least somewhat bipartisan with some Republicans joining in.
“Moral courage as a locus for Americans to place hope, the willingness to stand up for what is right and true in spite of negative consequences to oneself," he said. "That is an essential glue of constitutional democracy.”
Associated Press reporter Fatima Hussein contributed reporting from Washington.