Jul 14 • 34M

Eyewitness Account of the Highland Park Massacre

Today’s topic is eyewitness accounts of the Highland Park Massacre. Our speakers are David Baum and Brittany Wroblewski.

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Larry Bernstein
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Larry Bernstein:
Welcome to What Happens Next. My name is Larry Bernstein. What Happens Next is a podcast which covers economics, finance, history, politics and current events.

Today’s session revolves around two eyewitness accounts of the Highland Park Illinois July 4th Parade Massacre.

I was born and raised in Glencoe which is a couple of miles from the killing zone. My friends and family were at the Highland Park parade. Today, we will hear from my brother-in-law David Baum who is married to my wife’s sister Debra. And then we will hear from David’s daughter Brittany Wroblewski who is my niece.

Brittany marched in the parade with her son Blake moments before the shooting began.

We are going to start the conversation with my brother-in-law David Baum who is an obstetrician in Highland Park.

David Baum

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David, you were at the parade, what happened?

David Baum:
We were at the event to watch my grandson walk in the Children's Parade, which happened. The Children's Parade happened at 9:15, which is a yearly event in Highland Park. The kids go on scooters and tricycles, bikes. Some parents are pushing in strollers. I would think that there were hundreds of families walking with their kids, as my daughter and my son-in-law and my grandson walked. My grandson pushed his little bubble lawnmower. My concern was for people. Every time I saw a truck go by on a side street, I always thought of what happened last year in Wisconsin, which is just because I'm a paranoid grandfather.

The Children's Parade finishes, then the police and firetruck and search and rescue teams from the community. Then the Highland Park Marching Band comes through. Then there was a little lull before some of the other couple floats and a little klezmer band was to come through. Then the shots rang out. It was a series of incredible sounds that I've never heard before, never having actually been in close proximity to gunfire, but these were like sonic booms. These were just rapid fire, rapid fire, as you've heard. You've seen the audio. There was a couple 15- seconds delay while he probably put another clip in and then another 40 shots rang out. There was probably within 30 seconds, people were screaming, "Bodies down, bodies down, bodies down," and people started just running every different direction. That's it.

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Brittany Wroblewski

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Larry Bernstein:
I would like to turn now to David’s daughter Brittany. You marched in the Highland Park Parade with your son, and you were present when the shooting started. What happened?

Brittany Wroblewski:
Yeah. Unfortunately, my family was at the wrong place at the wrong time, but luck aligned for us in almost every way. If you would've altered one detail, our fate would've been very, very different. But on the 4th of July, we had what I would describe as boring suburban plans. Our plan was to take our two-year-old to the Highland Park parade and then have a family barbecue. My husband and I both actually grew up in Highland Park and we made a very intentional choice to move to Highland Park and raise our family in Highland Park because it's such a wonderful and beautiful community. So, growing up, I used to do the Highland Park children's parade which starts 30 minutes before the main parade does at 10:00 AM. And this year, I was telling Chris, it's really nostalgic for me to be a parent now in the parade and walking Blake down and all the kids decorate their bicycles and their tricycles.

My son who's two decorated a little lawnmower that he likes to push and it blows bubbles. And we were walking, waving to tons of community members who we know, family, friends, classmates, families of his. And my son who's two couldn't do the whole loop. It was just too much for him. So, we detoured and cut out early to go meet my family who was Blake's cheering section outside of our local Dairy Queen lined up. And we had just gotten to my parents' blanket and chairs and everyone was hugging Blake and telling him what a good job he did marching. And just as the official parade was getting started, we just heard these loud consecutive pops that happened so fast. Everyone just kind of like froze. And there was this haze of confusion. And diagonal from me across the street I saw people begin to jump up and spring up. I looked at my husband who already had Blake in his hands and we just started to run. And-

Larry Bernstein: Where did you run?

Brittany Wroblewski:
We didn't know. We just ... Away. We just ran. We ran just away from the main parade area. And in that moment I just knew I was going to be separated from the rest of my family.

Larry Bernstein:
Was it complete chaos?

Brittany Wroblewski:
It was complete chaos. Within seconds, we knew it was a gun, we knew it was a shooter. And we just started running. And when we made a right by the train tracks, the second round of shots happened and the fear that I had in that moment and your body's and your mind is just not connected. Your body is just moving so fast and running. And the instincts, the survival, I mean, my heart rate is so high just talking about it right now. And then your mind begins to catch up and I'm starting to think where's my family. There's people screaming. There's elderly people trying to get away. There's kids crying. It was just a whirl a fear that I really don't wish on anyone ever and certainly a child.

Larry Bernstein:
I grew up in Glencoe in a town that borders Highland Park. We were both raised in this community and attended the same synagogue. I went to the Glencoe parade as a child and as a young parent. You've been a lifelong Highland Park resident. You attended Highland Park High School, and you made the decision to raise your family in Highland Park. You live just a few blocks away from the shooting incident. There was a belief that Glencoe and Highland Park are totally safe; it is like Mayberry. Nothing bad ever happens in Highland Park. What is it like to find out that you are unsafe here?

Brittany Wroblewski:
What is safe anymore? I don't know. Parades aren't safe, schools aren't safe, concerts aren't safe. We allow people to buy legally in this country and arrive at schools with and parades. This guy, this deranged 21-year-old did not break a law in America until he opened fire on the parade. And no place is immune because no one has a chance against an AK-15. The police, there were hundreds of police at the parade. The police literally marched through the parade. There were military members who had just marched through the parade. They are outgunned. And the whole thing Larry, started and ended in 20 seconds. You blinked and this guy took seven lives, wounded over 40 and shattered a whole community. That's it. It's not about the location, it's about how these guns get to the locations. And the only way to make Highland Park, Glencoe, the south side of Chicago, I mean any neighborhood is unsafe until we ban assault weapons. This isn't a Democrat/Republican issue, this is a public safety issue.

Larry Bernstein:
I was in New York City on 9/11. I saw with my own eyes when the Twin Towers came down. It was quite a shock. There was a sense of vulnerability and that the world had changed in that moment when those buildings came down. One big difference with 9/11 was that we were attacked by foreign Arab terrorists. What's strange about this incident in Highland Park is that the killer was someone who lived among us. One of his parents lives a couple blocks away from you. He attended your high school. His father had a delicatessen that recently closed but was just a few blocks away from your house. The murderer’s dad ran for mayor. He is one of us. How do you think about it that this guy lived right down the street?

Brittany Wroblewski:
Yeah, I think it makes the idea of access to assault weapons just more prominent. This guy had the same schooling. He grew up in the same safe community. Like nature versus nurture. I shared a lot of similar experience than this kid, this 21-year-old. The internet and social media changed the way people can share ideas, both good and bad, but access to a weapon that caused so much havoc and destruction so quickly, to me is the piece of the puzzle that brought this on. I do. I'm not saying that a dangerous person with horrible intentions is not going to find a way to carry out a horrible plan. The 70 rounds he shot in 20 seconds is unlike anything. No one has a chance.

The bottom line is when a military grade weapon gets into the hands outside of the military, it's criminal grade. There's nothing else to do with an AK-15. There's no sport, there's no hunting, it

is just meant to devastate communities and ruin lives. If he would've had to reload, if he didn't have that type of bullet and speed, lives would've been saved. I'm not saying that no horrible event would've happened at the parade, I'm saying that some lives could have been saved. There could have been a minute where police could have oriented themselves to realize where the hell the guy ... I mean, you couldn't even blink, Larry. And the whole thing had started and finished and our community is forever changed. There's a boy who's my son's age, Blake's age, and he lost both of his parents at the parade.

Larry Bernstein:
I know, it's terrible.

Brittany Wroblewski:
Yeah. I mean, there's not even words to just ... I don't have the stomach to digest that yet. I don't know if I ever will, but ...

Larry Bernstein:
Your dad David Baum ran to help the victims. I know you've got mixed feelings about that. Tell me you felt when you found out that he put himself in harm’s way.

Brittany Wroblewski:
Hmm. This one's been a journey over the last 48 hours. The day of the shooting, I'll be honest, I was mad at him. Because in the chaos after, my husband, Blake and I were able to get to our car. And again, I said at the beginning, there were a million things that could have gone differently for us that would've changed our fate. Where we parked our car was one of those weird details where we were able to run directly to our car. And we sped out of the town area like a getaway car. I was laying in the back seat with Blake. So, he wasn't by a window. So, back to your question, when we got into the car, I'm calling my family. No one's answering, I'm getting voicemails. I'm hysterical. I'm thinking horrible things. And finally, I get a hold of my sister, "Is everyone okay?" "Everyone's okay, but dad is on the corner helping victims." And I just lost it. I was like, "Get him out of there. What is he doing? Where are you? Why aren't you guys together?"

They wouldn't leave without my dad so they're hanging on the side of the ... They were in a safe place. Now that I've had a couple days to digest and I came around hours later, but I think anyone who has a hero like my father in their family, anyone who has someone in their family who's served, who's a first responder, a police officer, whatever, I guess I just got like a taste of that, of what it feels like to have a real hero in your family and someone who puts their life at risk. And my dad's a really special person. He's always been my role model before this incident, this terror. But yeah, as a daughter, I'm not ... As a daughter I wasn't suggesting that he go back into the chaos and the unknown, but also as a daughter, I'm really proud. And he says he wouldn't have changed the thing that he did. And he wanted to set the example to us kids that if you have value and something to contribute in a moment of chaos and need, you should do your part. And my dad's a physician. He's served our community for 33 years. And he absolutely did his part.

Larry Bernstein:
I thought it was amazing that the police were able to find this criminal so quickly afterwards. Any thoughts on your Highland Park Police Department?

Brittany Wroblewski:
Well, if it's so easy to buy an assault rifle, it's really easy to track who buys them. So, yeah, isn't that just a sick irony? He left the gun there. The gun has a serial number which is registered to Bobby Crimo, and they were at his house in hours. It's too easy on both sides. The fact it's almost like proving the point. It's the inverse proof of the point, right? It's so easy to purchase it therefore it's so easy to find the person who purchased it. It's wrong and it all kind of came full circle. Don't get me wrong, I slept better that night and every night since knowing that this criminal is caught, but in reality, no part of the process should have been that easy, from buying it to finding him.

Larry Bernstein:
Brittany, I end each episode of mine on a note of optimism, what are you optimistic about?

Brittany Wroblewski:
I'm optimistic about the really angry fed up had enough young people. And I grew up in Highland Park, you grew up in Glencoe. When we were growing up, school parades, they were safe and they were fun, and they were full of joyous memories and I just know that I'm part of a community that is going to get back to a point where our kids have wonderful school days and parade days, and summers full of bubble lawnmowers and barbecues. And it's going to be a long road. We're in it for the long run, but I'm really inspired by just the Highland Park community and the way that HP has come together, HP strong. And to be clear, there's no silver lining in what happened though, Larry. Sorry to take your note of optimism, there is no silver lining in this. This was a horror tragedy. Seven lives were lost. There is no silver lining, period, new sentence. I am inspired by my community who's come together under just unspeakable circumstances. So, we'll change things.

Larry Bernstein:
Thanks to David and Brittany for joining us today.

Thanks to our audience for your continued engagement with these important issues, good-bye.