HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. — A popular community event in Highland Park took on a special meaning Tuesday in the wake of the July 4 mass shooting.

A cool treat on a sweltering summer evening and the thrill of an inflatable castle brought welcomed moments of joy to Highland Park.

“It’s a great show of support and it’s just fun to see everyone out and about and happy,” said Ashley Libit.

That feeling isn’t lost on the hundreds of neighbors who came to City Hall for the annual National Night Out. Highland Park Police Chief Lou Jogman was among the attendees.

“National Night Out is one of the highlights of our year, but this year it certainly feels a little different than years before,” he said. “We are still shaking, still grieving, but we are moving forward together.”

The event is intended to bring police and first responders closer to their communities. It’s a night that has a new meaning here, nearly one month after the July 4 parade shooting.

Tobi Pinsky attended the parade and said Tuesday’s event helped her and her family.

“My younger son and I happened to be pretty close and during that time we were fleeing from the shooting we didn’t actually see any police officers, so it’s been really great to meet them after the fact and thank them for their service and for everything they did that day,” Pinksy said.

Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering also commended the bravery of the city’s police department.

“These selfless individuals act when others are in need, without seeking glory or rewards for the impact they make,” Rotering said. “They are our hometown heroes.”

This hometown is now spending a little more time getting to know its first responders and each other.

“That’s what makes this community so strong,” said Highland Park resident Mark Gaines.