This story contains graphic images
I’d been to the July 4 parade in Highland Park so many times. This time, I went with my cousin and her boyfriend, plus another 5-year-old cousin and her grandmother. We walked in the pets and children’s march that comes right before the main parade and then rushed to our seats in front of Walker Bros. pancake house to take it all in—like I had done almost every year of my life.
The ambulances and police vehicles that kick off the parade came by, then the marching band passed. That’s when we heard it: pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop. I thought it was fireworks until I saw people ducking. Then people started screaming and running and I felt something hit my face.
It actually didn’t hurt that much at first. To me, it felt like a BB pellet. But I jumped up and ran, holding my cousin’s little Yorkie, a bag with my wallet and keys, and my phone. I ended up tripping over a bike, I think, and I dropped my bag and the dog ran off. But I just kept going. I didn’t even want to look back.
I ran into a glass building where I saw a police officer, who gave me gauze. It wasn’t until I stopped running that I realized I was bleeding a lot, all over my clothes. I guess I was just kind of in shock, like everyone else.
A police officer escorted me to find my bag with the keys, and walking back along Central Avenue is when it became real for me. I passed bodies covered in blankets, the wounded being cared for by EMTs, and people yelling because no one knew where the shooter might be. I stood behind the police officer, terrified.
Eventually, I found my cousin’s boyfriend and he was able to drive me to the hospital. There were no ambulances because so many other people were badly injured. I ended up with six stitches to close a graze wound that the doctor said had been cauterized by the heat of the bullet. I know how lucky I am.
TW BLOOD please dont go to parades today i do not trust anything right now pic.twitter.com/hqiNxCoF9s
— lilli ≧◡≦ (@h4ndcrushed) July 4, 2022
Here is the thing: I am just 18 but this is not the first time I have been close to a mass shooting. In 2016, when a shooter killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando with a semiautomatic rifle, I was 10 minutes away, visiting my dad. In 2017, he was living in Las Vegas when a sniper armed with multiple assault rifles shot up the Route 91 Harvest Festival, killing 60 people; my dad being extremely nearby.
I’m a rising sophomore at a college in Colorado who is planning on a career in education. The massacre in Uvalde, Texas, where someone with an assault rifle killed 19 children and two teachers, weighed heavily on my mind.
That is why on Monday, just hours after the shooting, I posted a photo of my bloody face on Twitter with the message: “i cant fucking believe i was in the middle of a mass shooting. ive felt safe at this parade for 18 years and today i got hit with a bullet and nothing will change in america this is ridiculous.”
A day later, I can say this: It is ridiculous. And things really have to change.
My entire family has been passionate about the gun violence issue and we will continue to be. I am not deeply into politics but I just think we need stricter laws on who can get guns. When the Second Amendment was written, we didn’t have assault weapons.
I don’t know if my photo will make an actual difference, but I hope it changes a few people’s minds. The reaction has been mostly positive; a California congressman DM’d me and a lot of moms compared me to their own kids.
Of course, some people were calling me a crisis actor, saying I was pretending I was shot and that the blood on my face, my shirt, and running down my pants was makeup.
Here’s the truth: It was real, all too real. Just like the gun problem.
—as told to Daniel Brown