HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. — In the shadow of Highland Park’s City Hall, in a quiet rose garden, there is a memorial dedicated to the victims who were shot at the 2022 Fourth of July Parade.
Karina Mendez and Nubia Hogan, two of Eduardo Uvaldo’s daughters, gathered with other family members at their father’s plaque ahead of the somber anniversary of his killing.
“I feel close to my dad here,” Mendez said. “It’s the last place he was alive, so I feel like he’s, here. He’s not forgotten. We never forget.”
Uvaldo, a 69-year-old retired maintenance worker especially loved the Highland Park parade, and often attended with his grandchildren.
“He was very present in our lives,” Hogan said.
Uvaldo was one of seven people who were killed when a gunman, perched atop the roof of Ross Cosmetics, and armed with a semiautomatic rifle, opened fire on the parade crowd below on Central Avenue.
These are the names of the victims:
Katherine Goldstein, 64, of Highland Park
Irina McCarthy, 35, of Highland Park
Kevin Michael McCarthy, 37, of Highland Park
Jacki Lovi Sundheim, 63, of Highland Park
Stephen Straus, 88, of Highland Park
Nicolás Toledo, 78 of Morelos, Mexico
Eduardo Uvaldo, 69, of Waukegan
‘The entire community was impacted’
Dozens of others were injured in the shooting, and virtually the entire community was impacted.
“A community of 30,000 people have been impacted by one AR-15 style weapon,” said Ashbey Beasley, a Highland Park mother who attended the parade with her son.
Months later, Beasley was visiting family in Nashville, when there was yet another mass shooting.
There were 647 mass shootings in the United States last year, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
Beasley stepped up to the microphones after a news conference about the Nashville shooting.
“My son and I survived a mass shooting over the summer,” she said. “I am in Tennessee on a family vacation with my son visiting my sister-in-law. I have been lobbying in Washington D.C. since we survived a mass shooting in July. I have met with over 130 lawmakers. How is this still happening? How are our children still dying and why are we failing them?”
Nearly a year after the Highland Park shooting, she reflected on that moment in Nashville.
“It just all bubbled up in me, it was too much to see all these things that I’m working so hard against – and knowing that had congress acted, had they acted, these deaths would have been preventable,” she said. “These children would not have been killed. It just infuriated me. I just had to say something.”
Beasley became a gun safety advocate and has been working on a web site called Hometown Advocacy – which provides information on how to lobby lawmakers for gun safety.
Like many who experienced the Highland Park parade, she has been on a year-long search for accountability and justice.
“One year out, the thing that I’ve learned the most is that the deep impact of a mass shooting event,” she said.
Lawsuit seeks to hold gun manufacturer responsible
In the years since the parade attack, and really the 24 years since Columbine, Congress has enacted little in the way of gun safety legislation. Illinois passed its own semi-automatic weapons ban in the parade’s aftermath, but a patchwork of state laws has had little effect on the overall national problem of mass shootings with semiautomatic weapons.
One novel approach to accountability is civil litigation.
“I feel the heavy burden that the families are relying upon us to do something, because no one else is, said Tony Romannuci, a lawyer who is leading a landmark lawsuit against gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson, the maker of the weapon used by the Highland Park shooter.
“We know who is to blame, and that is Smith & Wesson,” he said. “They are the ones who put this gun in this person’s hands.”
A federal law protects gun manufacturers from being held liable for mass shootings. But Romanucci is arguing that Smith & Wesson violated state consumer protection laws, alleged transgressions for which the gun maker could be held responsible.
The 71-page lawsuit alleges that “the marketing and sales practices of Smith & Wesson, “are the beginning and pivotal links in a foreseeable and predictable chain of events resulting in numerous mass shootings.”
Smith & Wesson did not respond to WGN’s requests for comment, but in a written statement the company criticized politicians and others who blame the gun makers for shootings, “They seek to avoid any responsibility for the crisis of violence they have created by attempting to shift the blame to Smith & Wesson, other firearm manufacturers and law-abiding gun owners.”
It’s a legal tactic that has already worked. The families of those killed in the Sandy Hook shooting sued gunmaker Remington, which settled the case by paying $73 million dollars to the families of nine of the victims.
“We are trying to do something similar here in Illinois,” Romanucci said. “This violation of state law never should have happened, and we are saying it’s a cause of the shooting.”
‘I’m shattered on the inside’
Lauren Bennett is part of the lawsuit and was at the parade with two of her three young boys. She was shot twice.
“From the outside, I probably look fine,” Bennett said. “But I’m shattered on the inside, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be unshattered.”
Her husband rushed her to the hospital, and she survived to tell her story.
“If it makes changes, if it gets good laws passed, gets good regulations passed. Holds accountability for people who wronged us, then I will tell my story over and over again,” she said.
Victim’s family will avoid Highland Park remembrance events
The city of Highland Park is planning to mark the one-year anniversary with a moment of silence outside of City Hall at 10 a.m. The memorial will be followed by a community walk, and a picnic. Later, actor Gary Sinise and the “Lieutenant Dan Band,” will perform a concert for the community. The evening will be capped by a drone show.
The anniversary of the parade is a difficult time for so many, and certainly for those who have experienced loss.
“As it gets closer, it’s getting harder,” Mendez said. “Every day we think about everything that happened, but it was less. But now, it’s like every day, I’m thinking about that day over and over.”
Hogan said she plans to spend the day with family, not at the Highland Park events.
“I’m not ready,” she said. “I don’t know if I will ever be ready. I’m going to spend it with my family, that’s what I plan to do and that’s what I plan to do, but not a parade. Not soon at least.”