Community walk, drone show among Highland Park’s ideas for Fourth of July — one-year anniversary of parade shooting
Fireworks and parade not part of preliminary plans
One year after the worst day in Highland Park’s history City officials hope the community can observe the anniversary together.
The City of Highland Park began publicly discussing plans for the one-year anniversary of the Fourth of July tragedy during a City Council meeting on Monday, Feb. 13. City Manager Ghida Neukirch presented council members with officials’ preliminary ideas on how to recognize July 4, 2023, a year after a mass shooter murdered seven people and injured dozens more during the community’s annual parade.
Neukirch said the City and Park District of Highland Park have been in regular communication with victims’ families, survivors and the U.S. Department of Justice on how to develop the anniversary observance.
With guidance from the DOJ, Neukirch said, the City is using a “trauma-informed approach throughout this planning process, understanding that people grieve differently, people are still physically recovering and there are still thousands of people certainly impacted by the tragedy that was endured. We are working diligently to balance diverse community needs.”
Neukirch described what she called “very preliminary” ideas for the day, which do not include fireworks or a parade but do include a morning community walk and an evening drone light display. Other ideas are a remembrance ceremony at City Hall; a moment of silence at 10:14 a.m., the moment of the shooting on July 4, 2022; and a community picnic with live music, food and family festivities.
An official plan for the Fourth of July observance is still weeks if not months away and certain aspects must gain approval from either the City Council or the Park Board.
If a community walk comes to fruition, it would be along the same route the parade usually takes and residents may have to register to participate.
“We talked about a theme of ‘We Are Highland Park’ to really reinforce the theme of unity that we all have in supporting each other during these continued difficult times,” Neukirch said.
City staff and council members were in agreement that a fireworks display is not appropriate in 2023, and Neukirch recommended that instead the City pursue a drone light performance, a popular fireworks alternative in which synchronized drones create lighted patterns and images in the night sky.
A drone show may cost the City $50,000, a significant discount from the regular rate, said Neukirch, who said a standard fireworks show costs the City $30,000 a year.
“This really looks like the best option in terms of something unique, an alternative to fireworks that also takes into consideration the extraordinary year we had this year,” she said.
While Councilmember Annette Lidawer was not in favor of the drone display’s added cost, a majority of council members supported the idea and asked Neukirch to return to the council with a contract for review.
Mayor Nancy Rotering suggested that the added cost may be offset if no parade is held, while Councilmember Michelle Holleman said the council should treat the day as a separate event.
“I encourage us not to compare the cost to what we’ve done in the past,” she said,” but look at this as a specific event that needs to be treated as a special and very unique set of circumstances. Make no small plans on this. The community is watching, and I believe the incremental expense isn’t the concern at this point, it’s finding something that accommodates the community’s needs.”
Neukirch said that — as it does for every special event — the City is also working in concert with local and regional law enforcement units on a unique emergency operations plan.
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Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319