Witnesses reported hearing up to 25 shots fired just after 10am CDT on Monday, which struck several in attendance and sent hundreds of parade-goers — some visibly bloodied — running from the parade route, leaving behind chairs, baby strollers and blankets.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported that blankets had been placed over “three bloodied bodies” and up to five others had been wounded in the shooting. The city later confirmed six deaths and two dozen people had been wounded.
Law enforcement were warning people to avoid Highland Park and it was being treated as an active shooter situation.
What we know about the shooting so far
Sgt. Christopher Covelli, from the Lake County Major Crime Task Force, told a news conference just before 1pm CTD that the shooter appeared to have taken up up a sniper position on the rooftop.
They recovered a high-powered rifle from the scene, but still consider the suspect to be armed and dangerous, police said.
The conditions of the injured ranged from serious to critical, Mr Covelli added.
“This was very random, very intentional and a very sad day,” Mr Covelli said during a later update, adding the suspect could still be in city or could have fled the area.
Officers ran towards the shooter when the gunfire began, but say he was “discreet and difficult to see”.
Residents have been urged to shelter in place.
More than 100 local, state and federal law enforcement officers, including the FBI, are working on the investigation, Mr Covelli said.
Witnesses told WGN that a suspect began firing from the roof of an Uncle Dan’s retail store into the parade below about 10 minutes after the parade started.
The shooting happened “in the area of the Independence Day parade route,” the Lake County Sheriff's Office said in statement posted shortly after 11 am CDT.
“Everybody disperse, please. It is not safe to be here,” policer told parade-goers.
The Lake County Sheriff’s Office said on Twitter that it is assisting Highland Park Police “with a shooting in the area of the Independence Day parade route.”
Eyewitnesses tell of running for their lives
Gina Troiani and her son were lined up with his daycare class ready to walk onto the parade route when she heard a loud sound that she believed were fireworks — until hearing people yell about a shooter.
“We just start running in the opposite direction,” she said.
Her five-year-old son was riding his bike decorated with red and blue curled ribbons. He and other children in the group held small American flags. The city said on it’s website that the festivities were to include a children’s bike and pet parade.
Ms Troiani said she pushed her son’s bike, running through the neighborhood to get back to their car.
In a video that Troiani shot on her phone, some of the kids are visibly startled at the loud noise and then scramble to the side of the road as a siren wails nearby.
It was just sort of chaos,” she said. “There were people that got separated from their families, looking for them. Others just dropped their wagons, grabbed their kids and started running.”
Debbie Glickman, a Highland Park resident, said she was on a parade float with coworkers and the group was preparing to turn onto the main route when she saw people running from the area.
“People started saying: ‘There’s a shooter, there’s a shooter, there’s a shooter,’” Glickman said.
“So we just ran. We just ran. It’s like mass chaos down there.”
She didn’t hear any noises or see anyone who appeared to be injured.
“I’m so freaked out,” she said. “It’s just so sad.”
Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering said the shooting has “terrorised” the city of 30,000.
“Our hearts go out to the families of the victims during this devastating time. On a day that we came together to celebrate community and freedom, we’re instead mourning the tragic loss of life and struggling with the terror that was brought upon us,” Ms Rotering said.
She asked everyone in the area to remain calm, and on “high alert”.
“Please contact your loved ones and ensure that they’re safe and let them know that you’re safe as well. This situation, as you know, is evolving rapidly and we will continue to update you as we gain information and stabilise the situation,” Ms Rotering said.
City leaders said on Twitter all Fourth of July parades had been cancelled and asked residents to avoid the downtown area. Beaches in the area have also been closed.
A perimeter was put in place around downtown Highland Park as authorities tried to locate the shooter.
It was the 308th mass shooting so far in the United States in 2022, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
What we know about the shooter
Highland Park Police described the suspect as a white male 18-20 years old, with long black hair, small build, and wearing a white or blue t-shirt.
They recovered a high-powered rifle from the scene, but still consider the suspect to be armed and dangerous.
The weapon was being urgently traced by the Bureau of Tobacco, Alcohol and Firearms to identify who it belonged to, a spokesperson told CNN.
Police admitted they did not know whether he was still in the area or had already fled.
Nearby communities including Elk Grove Village, Buffalo Grove, Evanston and Rolling Meadows cancelled July 4th events and closed beaches “due to an abundance of caution”.
Eerie parallels to the Waukesha Christmas Parade tragedy
In November 2021, six people were killed and 62 others were injured when a driver broke through barricades and into the path of a Christmas Parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin, about 75 miles north of Highland Park.
As happened in Highland Park, strollers and chairs were left strewn along the main street after the attack.
Darrell Edward Brooks has been charged with six counts of first-degree intentional homicide and dozens of other offenses.
He had been out on bond after being accused of running over a woman a few weeks earlier.
Where is Highland Park?
Situated about 25 miles north of downtown Chicago, Highland Park is an affluent suburban city in Illinois on the southwestern edge of Lake Michigan.
It has a population of around 30,000, according to the 2020 Census.
Several members of the famous Chicago Bulls NBA team of the 1990s lived in the area, including Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Toni Kukoc.
Lawmakers respond to the shooting
President Joe Biden said in a statement he was monitoring the shooting closely.
“Jill and I are shocked by the senseless gun violence that has yet again brought grief to an American community on this Independence Day.”
Mr Biden, who signed gun control legislation into law last month, said there was “much more work to do”.
Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker of Illinois condemned the shooter’s actions on Monday afternoon.
“There are no words for the kind of monster who lies in wait and fires into a crowd of families with children celebrating a holiday with their community,” he said in a statement.
“There are no words for the kind of evil that robs our neighbors of their hopes, their dreams, their futures.”
Senator Dick Durbin, the second ranking Democrat, said in a tweet he had spoken to Ms Rotering, the Highland Park Mayor.
“Unimaginable horror at this mass shooting. Details are hard to even repeat. My office is in touch with law enforcement agencies searching for the suspected shooter.
“At least six dead and 24 wounded at this point. Praying for all.”
Associated Press contributed to this report