More than 1,000 pages of emails sent and received by employees of the city of Highland Park during the six hours following the deadly mass shooting on July 4 reveal new details about the chaos that unfolded, as well as the offers of assistance and tips that rolled in from the community.
The final parade lineup obtained by NBC 5 Investigates shows the event had only made it to entry number eight out of 64 – the Highland Park High School band – when the gunfire began around 10:14 a.m.
The emails obtained by NBC 5 Investigates paint a vivid picture of the hours that followed, beginning with the first messages that came in at 10:24 a.m., just minutes after shooting. One of those initial emails is the first of several from media outlets asking about “reports of possible shots fired.” Over the next six hours, various city employees received more than 80 inquiries from dozens of journalists, from both local and national news organizations as well as international outlets as far away as Canada and even New Zealand.
Also at 10:24 a.m., the first email offering assistance came in from a crime analyst with the Skokie Police Department. Several others rolled in throughout the day from communities across the Chicago area, including Lake Zurich, Westmont, Warrenville, Northfield and more.
At 11:11 a.m., Illinois’ Statewide Terrorism & Intelligence Center sent out a bulletin notifying its email distribution list that it has “received information about an active shooter” and “the situation is rapidly evolving.”
Then at 11:17 a.m., an all call message went out requesting all personnel and vehicles with the Northern Illinois Police Alarm System to assist Highland Park police, giving a staging location “in case we are needed for a suspect search.”
One minute later, Highland Park’s city manager informs the mayor and members of city council that all holiday festivities had been canceled, a perimeter had been set up around downtown, the FBI had been notified and the shooter was still not in custody.
The first email indicating event cancellations across the area came in just before 12 p.m., when Northbrook sent out an email notifying that its own parade and fireworks had been canceled. Several more followed suit: Evanston, Glenview, Winnetka and others. Some like Glencoe and Lake Forest advised residents to remain home or indoors as the shooter remained at large.
After Highland Park Police Commander Chris O’Neill spoke just before 1 p.m., asking for the community’s assistance, tips began to pour in. Highland Park residents, parade attendees and concerned citizens reached out to police to share their videos, photos and information as tips while the manhunt continued.
One person at 3:10 p.m. sent their video to police, saying it was taken as they crouched with their kids and father to take cover behind two parked cars.
“What a horrific, terrifying morning,” the tipster wrote. “Hope you catch the monster.”
Minutes later, a resident of Wilmette sent a post found on social media, flagging “you can hear the shooting over the band playing about 5 to 7 seconds into the video.”
Another video submission notes it’s relevant “as to the number of gunshots," which police later revealed to be more than 80.
Throughout the afternoon, other offers of assistance came from members of a club no one wants to join: law enforcement officials who had previously seen their own communities through mass casualty events.
At 1:26 p.m., the Waukesha City Administrator reached out to offer assistance and consultation after running his city’s emergency operations in the aftermath of their own deadly tragedy at a Christmas parade last year.
In an unrelated message just three minutes later, gun violence prevention group Everytown sent the mayor of Highland Park resources the organization said “we know other mayors have found useful in the wake of a mass shooting,” including a protocol for the first 24 hours and a more than 200-page “mass shooting playbook” that was “developed in collaboration with mayors whose communities have experienced mass shootings.”
At 1:57 p.m., a representative of the International Association of Chiefs of Police sent a note offering assistance from the organization’s Mass Violence Advisory Initiative – a program that “provides immediate peer-to-peer assistance to law enforcement leaders following a mass violence incident,” attaching handouts that include a list of its experts. The group’s advisory team includes officials who have led their communities during high-profile mass shootings like at Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Pulse nightclub, Parkland, the Las Vegas music festival shooting and more.
The last email obtained is a message sent by the city at 4:07 p.m., noting that the investigation into the shooting was ongoing, the parade route “remains an active crime scene” and officials “highly recommend” residents continue to shelter in place. The note once again asked for anyone with knowledge of the incident or photo or video evidence to share their information.
At around 6:45 p.m., the announcement was made: the suspect had been taken into custody.