Highland Park parade shooting; community in search of healing

After a gunman opened fire at an Independence Day parade, a ministry group is trying to bring to Highland Park what it brought to Waukesha after 2021's parade attack.

Blue, wooden hearts aligned in a half-circle are helping Highland Park pay tribute to the parents, neighbors and friends who are now gone. The names are different from those in Waukesha, but the message – for a community to be strong – remains the same.

Inside Highland Park Presbyterian Church, a community torn apart came together Tuesday, July 5.

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"I just had to. I didn't sleep last night. I've been glued to the TV nonstop, and I felt that I needed to be with my community," said Susan Olken.

Outside the church, hugs were held a bit tighter and longer than normal as people stopped to see the blue hearts display.

Community pays tribute to Highland Park parade shooting victims

"It's just bringing that comfort to a hurting community," said Dona Martin with Lutheran Church Charities.

Luthern Church Charities aligned seven blue hearts of mercy and compassion in Highland Park – one for each person killed – just as they did in Waukesha.

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Those hearts included a married couple, Irina and Kevin McCarthy. Their 2-year-old son is now orphaned.

Near the crosses, the LCC's K-9 unit brought about different emotions, where therapy comes through pets and wagging tails.

Irina and Kevin McCarthy

"When they're petting a dog, it just naturally lowers their blood pressure. It just gives them that moment to be natural for a little while," Martin said.

All day Tuesday, Highland Park's churches opened their doors for anyone in need of help, conversation or fellowship.

READ MORE: Highland Park parade shooting survivors recount terror

"Just to pay tribute to all these families and all the people who went through this in person," said Dr. Christina Alexakos, a licensed clinical psychologist.

For now, the community searches for peace through each other.

"We'll support one another and do what we need to do to get through it," Olken said.