Amy Holleman didn’t hear the rapid succession of gunshots that dispersed the July 4 crowd outside her stationary shop’s doors. She said she saw people running, and after moving toward her store window for a closer look, noticed a woman struggling in the crowd.
Holleman, who manages a bright store in Highland Park’s quaint downtown, ushered the woman inside. Others followed. An active shooter, they told her, was somewhere outside.
And so on July 4, as a mass shooting sent people scattering in an affluent Chicago suburb, a shop that sells vibrantly colored paper goods and stationery became a frontline response zone. Among the other businesses-turned-sanctuaries: a cafe known for its freshly baked goods and an outdoors store that sells camping gear.
As scared adults and children hunkered and prayed in back rooms and offices, shopkeepers turned off lights, barricaded doors, helped wash off blood and gave out hugs. Owners and managers said they updated police on how many people were sheltering there as law enforcement officers combed the surrounding streets for the gunman.
A suspect would not be apprehended for several hours. As of Tuesday afternoon, the death toll of the Highland Park mass shooting had reached 7, with dozens more injured.
The tragic series of mass shootings in the past decade prompted states like Illinois to require schools to stage active shooter drills. Businesses don’t have the same requirements, leaving owners in this case to follow their instinct – and, in at least one situation, directions from a teenager who had undergone active shooting training at a nearby public school.
“People were coming in scared, people were harmed,” said Holleman, the manager of the Highland Park location of Paper Source. “They had fallen – some of them had blood on them from other victims. There was an attendee who didn’t have a shirt because he had tied a tourniquet around someone’s leg.”
Holleman recalled seeing their faces and seeing “the fear.”
“I had them all come in, I closed the doors, I turned off the lights, I told everyone to get in the back room. I told them all to stay in the back.”
Genevieve Sagett, the mother of two girls ages 11 and 13, attended the parade with her family. When they first heard gunshots about a block away, the family scattered. Her 13-year-old daughter ended up in a nearby cafe, hiding in the kitchen with Sagett’s brother-in-law and others.
“My daughter, who has gone through, unfortunately, so many (active shooter) drills knew to lock the back door,” Sagett recalled. “I looked at her and said, ‘Did they tell you to?’ She said, ‘No mom, I’ve done this so many times I just know.’”
“We never expected this thing to happen,” said Young Choi, who for 21 years has owned the coffee shop A Perfect Blend on Central Avenue. About two dozen adults and 10 children ran into the shop as gunfire erupted two blocks away; they barricaded the door with a set of shelves that Choi usually uses to stock freshly baked muffins and goods.
Panicked parents sent their children to hide in the small kitchen and the bathroom of the cafe, spending the morning until officers said it was safe to go. Choi and her husband stayed until the last customer felt safe leaving. “She left me a $100 tip. She said she just wanted to show my appreciation. I said, ‘You don’t have to. This is a critical situation, anyone would do that.’”
That same morning, after hearing gunshots and running with a group of other parade goers to hide behind dumpsters, Scott Vanden-Heuvel and his daughter, Zoe, started to head back to their car. Suddenly, he said they were redirected by officers to “get inside” – the closest building housed the camping store Gearhead.
The manager there sent everyone to the basement, Vanden-Heuvel said, and stood as a lookout by the door. Two people in the basement had gunshot wounds, he said, and were later taken away by ambulance.
The manager “risked his own life to make sure whoever needed refuge was given shelter,” said Zoe Vanden-Heuvel. “What a hero.”
At Gearhead, no one answered the phone Tuesday.
Yumi Ross and Jessica Morales were among those who fled to Paper Source. Ross had been marching in the parade with the League of Women Voters and was familiar with the store. Morales was standing nearby with her husband and two young children.
“It was probably the scariest thing I’ve ever experienced,” Morales said.
Holleman, the store manager, was “wonderful,” said Ross.
The Paper Source manager was back to work on Tuesday; so was the coffee shop owner, Young Choi. Reflecting on a day that had left her sad and numb, Holleman said she kept reflecting back on her indigenous roots and how her Cheyenne name means “opening doors for others.”
“My grandmother who passed in 1999 gave me this name, and I kept thinking about her when I was opening this door for people to come in,” Holleman said. “I’m glad I was here to open my doors. I’m glad I was here to help people. Because I have been in a position where I needed help and people opened doors.”
Choi, who prides herself on knowing her customers, was at first hesitant about returning to her coffee shop Tuesday.
She’s glad she did. Several people stopped Tuesday to thank her and to check on her. “I wasn’t going to come today, but I thought, the community needs a normal life. My customers know I’m open seven days. If I close, it’s another sad thing for my customers. And for myself. I’d rather be here to deal with it.”