Aiden McCarthy, a 2 ½-year-old boy left orphaned by the mass shooting at the Highland Park Fourth of July parade Monday, survived because his father shielded him with his body, according to his grandfather.
Kevin McCarthy, 37, died protecting his son, said Michael Levberg, whose 39-year-old daughter Irina — McCarthy’s wife and Aiden’s mother — also was among the seven people killed as they watched the parade.
“He had Aiden under his body when he was shot,” the father-in-law said.
When he picked up his grandson at the Highland Park police station, Levberg said Aiden told him, “Mommy and Daddy are coming soon.”
Irina McCarthy, an only child, “was the love of my life,” her father said. “She was everything.”
Born in Russia, she settled in the Chicago area with her immigrant father and mother, Nina Levberg. She worked as a waitress and attended Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire and DePaul University before landing a job in digital marketing in the pharmaceutical industry, her father said.
He said she met her husband Kevin — who worked for a gene therapy startup —through her job in pharmaceuticals.
After the shootings, Aiden “was walking in the street,” his grandfather said. Photos began circulating of the little boy alone.
“A neighbor passed by, she showed me the picture, it was Aiden,” Levberg said. “I picked him up at the police station.”
A GoFundMe page set up for the little boy said: “Aiden will be cared for by his loving grandparents, Misha and Nina Levberg, and he will have a long road ahead to heal, find stability and ultimately navigate life as an orphan. He is surrounded by a community of friends and extended family that will embrace him with love and any means available to ensure he has everything he needs as he grows.”
The online fundraiser said it aims to help “support him and the caregivers who will be tasked with raising, caring for and supporting Aiden as he and his support system embark on this unexpected journey.”
The McCarthys had been looking forward to the parade and going to see it with Aiden, Levberg said.
“They were crazy about their child,” he said, his voice breaking . “They were planning two.”
Early Tuesday evening, the couple’s bodies had not yet been released to their families.
“We don’t know what to do,” Levberg said.
Jacquelyn Sundheim, 63, of Highland Park, a synagogue preschool teacher, also was among those killed Monday.
In a letter sent to her synagogue’s members, North Shore Congregation Israel Rabbi Wendi Geffen said Sundheim had attended the synagogue her whole life and worked there for decades.
“Jacki’s work, kindness and warmth touched us all, from her teaching at the Gates of Learning Preschool to guiding innumerable among us through life’s moments of joy and sorrow, all of this with tireless dedication,” Geffen wrote.
Three of the four others who died in the parade massacre were identified Tuesday by Lake County Coroner Jennifer Banek as:
- Katherine Goldstein, 64, a longtime Highland Park resident who was an adjunct faculty member for three semesters at Columbia College Chicago, where she last taught in 2015.
- Stephen Straus, 88, of Highland Park.
- Nicolas Toledo Zaragoza, 78, who had spent most of his life in Morelos, Mexico, whom family members had identified Monday as a grandfather visiting family in Highland Park. He’d been with them about two months, and they were trying to get him to stay for good because he still suffered from injuries resulting from being hit by a car a couple of years ago in Highland Park.
The name of the seventh person killed hasn’t been released.
Correction: The spelling of Jacquelyn Sundheim’s first name has been corrected.