Highland Park is one step closer to planning and constructing a permanent place that will honor the seven victims and all who were impacted by the mass shooting in 2022.
During a Committee of the Whole meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 26, city councilmembers agreed that the working group, which will advise City Council on what officials are calling a “place of remembrance,” will consist of five members: the mayor, the city manager, the resiliency manager, the Park District of Highland Park director and one councilmember.
The council will nominate one of its own for the working group through a rank-choice voting process.
Early in the year, the city began a “multi-year process” to develop and install a permanent site in honor of those impacted by the shooting, which killed seven and injured more than 50, on July 4, 2022. In the immediate wake of the tragedy, impromptu memorials appeared near downtown Highland Park. The city then installed a temporary memorial to the seven victims near the City Hall rose garden. Officials have said that memorial will remain until a permanent replacement is finished.
City Manager Ghida Neukirch presented recommendations for a working group during the Sept. 26 meeting. According to the presentation, the working group will be reflective of the diversity of the Highland Park community and it will guide the planning process with help from victim specialists, the police department, the fire department, the building division and planning division.
Mayor Nancy Rotering and other city staff members have researched and connected with cities that have experienced similar tragedies — including Littleton, Colorado, and Uvalde, Texas — to learn how they memorialized and honored members of their communities.
“What communities have told us is don’t drag this out. Keep moving it at a pace so you eventually get it done because it’s also kind of harmful just to keep dragging it out,” Neukirch said. “But at the same time we want to be thoughtful in our approach and we just want to make sure that if someone is not ready today to talk about or provide their input on something, they may be ready next week or they may be ready in two weeks.”
Despite widespread support for the creation of a working group to plan a place of remembrance, the councilmembers debated how many councilmembers should be in the group and if they should rotate through the working group to have an equal say.
Councilmember Andrés Tapia supported the idea of a single-assignment, meaning that the councilmembers would not rotate in the meetings but rather appoint one person, which is what they eventually agreed upon.
“One of the most paramount things about this process is in the end, not everyone will agree with the outcome,” he said, “but if the process was healthy and inclusive and everybody got their voice heard as many times as they felt they had something to say, that is really the critical part.”
He was also in support of five people in the group, meaning just one councilmember in addition to the four other participants laid out in the presentation.
Councilmember Anthony Blumberg agreed with Tapia’s interpretation of inclusivity, citing transparency of the group as another essential element.
“I want to reiterate that the issue of transparency and inclusivity is not so much about the composition of this group, but that they are inclusive and transparent in thinking in our community, and I think that’s what we’re all striving for,” Blumberg said. “Frankly, whether the group is five or seven, that’s not an issue of inclusivity.”
Neukrich said invitations were sent to victims and survivors of the shooting to participate in the public discussion process at their own pace. According to the presentation, the place of remembrance will not only remember those who passed away in the shooting but will also “honor[s] the resiliency of those who were affected in the broader community.”
Both Neukirch and Rotering emphasized the importance of ongoing dialogue and public feedback.
“Everybody who was impacted will be included in these conversations and we have an absolute dedication to making sure that all voices are heard,” Rotering said.
The Record is a nonprofit, nonpartisan community newsroom that relies on reader support to fuel its independent local journalism.
Subscribe to The Record to fund responsible news coverage for your community.
Already a subscriber? You can make a tax-deductible donation at any time.
Rosie Newmark is a 2023 Record intern and an incoming senior studying journalism and history at Northwestern University. Rosie has written for multiple campus publications in addition to the Hyde Park Herald and American Libraries Magazine.