‘It’s going to be hard’: A new normal begins to emerge in a deeply wounded Highland Park

The rhythms of normal life began to sound again in Highland Park Wednesday morning.

Two restaurants along the parade route where a gunman killed seven and wounded dozens posted signs in their windows saying they’d reopen. A man told reporters their cars would be towed if they kept parking in his grocery store’s lot. A school bus full of tiny summer campers drove by.

But the children perched up to peer at cameramen, at yellow crime scene tape, at the site of a massacre. And as more businesses began to open and locals started to trickle onto the shaken town’s streets, the people in Highland Park felt life return to something different.

Silvia Schneider Fox and her daughter placed red roses at a makeshift memorial along Central Avenue.

“I keep thinking, ‘How will I be able to bring myself to walk this block?’ ” the 59-year-old said.

The two stood in front of the stacked bouquets and held one another as they quietly sang Jewish prayers for healing and mourning. Further down the police barrier, Marni Pine dropped off smoothies to officers guarding the crime scene. The nearby store where the Highland Park resident works, Bright Bowls, sheltered 150 people in its basement after the shooting, said her co-worker, Amy Sliwicki.

“It is kind of nice being out, being around everyone, especially people that are also going through it,” Pine, 23, said.

The city’s main street will never look the same to Courtney Mann, who grew up going to the Fourth of July parade.

“You go two blocks away from here and it seems like life is normal,” Mann, 46, said.

Late into the morning, FBI agents loaded abandoned lawn chairs and strollers into U-Haul trucks and drove them away. Central Avenue began to look clean again as Tuesday night’s rain dried up.

Harvey Welstein searched for a path among the blocked roads. He hadn’t seen downtown yet, but he already felt a “mix of emotions.”

“It’s sorrow, pain, anger. Now that I’ve gone through some of the steps of grief, I’m more angry than anything,” Welstein said.

‘It’s going to be hard’: A new normal begins to emerge in a deeply wounded Highland Park

Welstein ended up in front of another shrine to the shooting victims, this one nestled into a semicircular memorial honoring soldiers killed in wars past. Among the candles, pro-gun restriction signs and wooden posts bearing the names of dead paradegoers, he stood in silence for three minutes. He turned away for a second and turned to face it again.

“I see the family members, the people whose lives are changed forever,” Welstein said.

Nearby, a woman wore a white “Highland Park strong” T-shirt. Across the street, a hairdresser rinsed shampoo from another woman’s hair.

Susie Posnock sat on a cushy chair in the Love That Spice cafe as her wife waited for a ginger shot. She had been in her Highland Park home wearing pajamas for the last two days, she said.

“I needed to talk with people who are connected to the community, who had been here when it happened, to share some hugs and love, to heal a little bit,” Posnock said. A woman killed in the shooting, Jacquelyn “Jacki” Sundheim, planned her daughter’s bat mitzvah, Posnock said.

After the Uvalde elementary school mass shooting left 21 people dead, most of them children, she told her friends on social media “that it’s not ‘if’ it’s going to happen to your community, it’s ‘when,’” she said. Listening to others helps her feel better, she added.

‘It’s going to be hard’: A new normal begins to emerge in a deeply wounded Highland Park

A brown-uniformed deliveryman rolled a box into the cafe. Posnock’s wife got her drink and took five of the free thin chocolate chip cookies owner Marlena Jayatilake had set out. Jayatilake made her put more cookies in a paper bag. She gave the couple hugs too.

“Let’s keep praying for this sick world we live in,” Jayatilake told them.

The business owner was glad to see more people coming out into the community and reckoning with what happened.

“I know the pain that people are going through right now, and I share it with them. It was senseless,” she said.

Jayatilake cried more Wednesday than Tuesday, because she gave more hugs, she said. Sundheim had been a regular customer, Jayatilake added. She’s starting to feel some anger.

“They robbed this town of innocence. They’ll rebuild — yeah, of course, it’s Highland Park — but it’s going to be hard,” she said.

Sherry Levin also stopped by Love That Spice as she got back into Highland Park. Her boutique, Style Shack, can’t yet open. It’s two doors down from where the shooting took place, in the area police have fenced off.

“I can’t even glance into town,” said Levin, 59. “It’s so traumatic. It’s so deep.”

‘It’s going to be hard’: A new normal begins to emerge in a deeply wounded Highland Park

Levin walked past the The Art Center Highland Park. On the Art Center’s lawn, thousands of knotted orange ribbons memorialized the Uvalde victims and young people killed by gun violence across America. The installation was placed there a few weeks ago.

The Art Center’s gift shop, classes and summer camps reopened Wednesday. Those services can help people heal, executive director James Lynch said.

“This is why we’re here,” said Lynch, who is on the Highland Park Chamber of Commerce’s board. “No matter what’s going on for me, I got to be here.”

Artists have reached out, offering to help memorialize the victims of gun violence, he said. He’s not sure what to do, because the art center already had the memorial to the Uvlade victims.

“We’re changed forever,” Lynch said.

‘It’s going to be hard’: A new normal begins to emerge in a deeply wounded Highland Park

Cecilia Antezana Marshall ran toward the wounded moments after the parade shooting. She thought she might be able to help with her CPR and first-aid training, she said. She got to victims before first responders and saw that a woman sprawled over stairs bloodied was dead. She offered her scarf to a man as a tourniquet, though he had already used a belt for that. She saw paramedics turn over a man’s body. A “yellow, beautiful baby shoe” fell from his lifeless hand, she said.

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As she worked at the ORT Resale Shop on Wednesday, she remembered “the feeling that you couldn’t help them, those people who died.” But she had already cried enough at home, and it was time to return to her community.

“Life continues. I cannot stop,” Antezana Marshall said. “We are here to help other people. For that reason, we need to be stronger.”

Later in the day, a girl ran toward a friend at the corner of Central and Green Bay, only barely slowing down as the two embraced.

“You’re OK! You’re alive!” the friend said before kissing her on the cheek.

The two talked about who had been shot and what class they had in high school with the gunman as another woman leaned against a light post and sobbed.

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Twitter @jakesheridan_

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