Howard Prager, 66, and his klezmer band were arranged Monday morning in the seats of a slow-moving flatbed truck as they pulled into the lineup for the Park’s July 4 parade Highland.
There hasn’t been a parade in three years, since before the pandemic. “People are happy to be out,” he told USA TODAY.
The Maxwell Street Band Klezmer releases an upbeat tune, a song for weddings and celebrations. That’s when they started seeing people running.
At first, Prager thought there must be a celebrity or something in the parade they were running to see.
“Then I saw panic on their faces,” he said. “We see parents with strollers. We see adults. We see young people. And they’re all coming towards us.”
Six people were killed and dozens more injured Monday after a gunman opened fire on a parade around 10 a.m. in Highland Park, a northern suburb of Chicago. Residents were warned to shelter in place throughout the day as the search launched. Authorities said a person of interest was arrested Monday night.
‘I hugged my baby and ran’:6 dead, dozens injured in shooting at 4th of July parade in suburban Chicago
The shooting turned the family-friendly event into a crime scene, with chairs, wagons and bicycles abandoned along the parade route.
Alexander Sandoval, 39, a contractor, was moved when he recounted the scene to his 5-year-old son, his partner and 6-year-old daughter. He set up a chair in front of the stage at 7 a.m., three hours before the festival started.
“When things started happening, we thought it was the Navy saluting the flag,” he told USA TODAY. “The gun shot rang out. I grabbed my baby and ran.”
The parade, part of the day-long celebration, is a community organization in highland parkan affluent suburb of Chicago known for its tree-lined suburban streets.
Illinois’s State Library digital archive shows annual images from at least the mid-1960s of floats being towed behind station wagons. In one, historical society poses. In another, a portable statue of Iwo Jima rolls up when an honor guard is drawing attention.
The band Maxwell Street has been playing with increasing numbers of members since 1983, according to their website. Along with weddings and bars, the band’s website says they’ve toured as far as Carnegie Hall and Europe. The band lists a different cast of more than 20 members. For the parade setup, Prager said, they played with seven people: violin, trombone, clarinet, trumpet, electric piano, drums — and Prager, on the tuba.
The parade follows the dogleg route, down the street next to the Highland Park Public Library. At the next block, where the facades of Central Avenue began, the parade turned the corner to run down the main drag of Highland Park, where the shooting began.
At about 10:15, the band released a piece of Prager’s song called “Freilechs fun der chuppeh” – freilech, Prager said, means a cheerful person; chuppeh, or chuppah, the canopy for a Jewish wedding ceremony.
They hadn’t reached the corner of Central Avenue when they saw a line of people running. “I noticed and heard gunshots,” he said, “and thought, oh my gosh, this is serious.”
“You’ve seen these disaster movies and content where people are running. It just feels like that,” he said. “It’s like we’re in the middle of it. People ran past us. “
They need to get out of there, but their truck is already packed. The driver didn’t know where to go. In the end, in a gaping hole in the crowd, they turned around and returned to the starting point, he said.
Stunned, shocked, and unsure of what to do next, they did what the band did: They headed to their next gig, in Skokie. But that was also canceled – like so many events nearby.
By evening, Prager spoke on behalf of his bandmates and reflected on how the shooting had changed on July 4.
“I just wanted to see something that brings us all together and makes us completely back,” he said. “Watch this country come back together and realize that we all believe in freedom, liberty and peace for all.”