HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. — Trauma and grief still linger in Highland Park after a mass shooting claimed the lives of seven people and wounded dozens more.
While it’s common to try and heal by comforting and consoling one another, two artists traveled across the country to remind those grieving that when it comes to loss, it’s just as important to stare it in the face.
Noah Reich, 33 and his partner David Maldonado, 34, have traveled the country on a trail of tragedy since 49 people were killed in the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida.
“Honoring the victims lost in these senseless tragedies,” Reich said.
Most recently, the pair were in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas.
“The scale of the tragedy is something we continue to feel as artists as we create these pieces,” Reich said. “So whether it’s creating 10 pieces in Buffalo, 22 of them in Uvalde, or seven of them here, this thing of really offering an individual space for each of these lives and also to create a space for their families to be able to honor them.”
In a searing moment, first lady Dr. Jill Biden, alongside President Joe Biden, was so moved to see the young faces that she touched the photo of each victim at each altar.
“Seeing their faces is more meaningful. You look in their eyes and you’re reminded that they’re real people, not just names on a list of casualties,” said Highland Park resident Eric Freibrun.
An altar is a place of prayer, reflection, and a space of surrender and sacrifice.
“I had not been here since the shooting,” Freibrun said. “I was here when it happened.”
Reich says he is the grandson of Holocaust survivors and knows that Highland Park is a heavily Jewish community. Because of that, he brought stones to place on the alters — a Jewish custom that symbolizes the permanence of memory when faced with the fleetingness of life.
“As a Jew, how to create a space that we can come to and also be reflected in these mourning traditions, so the tradition of putting a rock is a grieving tradition that we do as Jews to honor our loved ones and our loss,” Reich said.
The couple crafted the altars in Los Angeles Monday night, in the hours after the shooting. They were brought to the parade route and dropped them off this morning, while steps away behind police tape, law enforcement authorities continued to search for evidence, as the once mundane items like strollers and coolers, continued to clutter the sidewalks, now standing as powerful symbols of a shattered community.
It’s why Reich and Maldonado wanted the faces of loss at this corner, too.
“It’s not just a number. It is a life and that person that has a family, a community they were a part of,” Reich said. “The ripple effects of these seven people’s lives no longer being here, there are families they were a part of that are going to spend their entire lives trying to make sense of what happened on Monday.”
Reich hopes that long after the name of the shooter is forgotten, the names and faces of the victims will continue to be remembered.