In suburban Chicago, ‘guardian angels’ sheltered strangers under attack

As Karen Britten relaxed and enjoyed the annual Independence Day Parade in the posh Chicago suburb where she has lived for nearly 40 years, a dozen shots suddenly rang out, shattering the festive atmosphere and sending a crowd of hundreds of people running for their lives.

Within minutes, Britten was back home near the parade route, making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and handing out old Beanie Baby toys to help comfort nearly 30 adults and children who took refuge in her basement. In all, Britten, 64, and two of her neighbors in Highland Park housed dozens of parade goers during an hour-long lockdown following Monday’s mass shooting as police searched for the suspect who shot and killed at least seven people.

“Complete strangers, we leaned on each other and helped each other,” Britten, a retired nurse, said in an interview outside her home on Tuesday. Highland Park, one of many suburbs north of Chicago that sits on Lake Michigan, is the latest American community to be hit by an outbreak of mass shootings that has ravaged the United States in recent years.

In many ways, this is a typical American dormitory community, where life seems to revolve around a commuter train station that ferries professionals to and from Chicago every day. The town features tree-lined streets, grand, quaint homes, and a business district with quaint shops. It is a close-knit community where many families have lived and worked for generations.

“I know what a generous community we are,” Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering said at a news conference. “We are overwhelmed by the amount of support offered not only by those in Highland Park, but also by the surrounding region and the nation.” As a longtime resident, Britten said she hasn’t been shy about helping others stay safe. Strangers spent more than four hours together at her home, until a police officer came to help people get home safely, she said.

“She just took charge,” said her husband, Jeff Wecker, 80. While sheltering in place, Britten handed out Pirate’s Booty snacks and put on a Disney movie to help calm the children.

“There were all these parents with little kids,” Britten said. “I just pushed them to come with me, come with me.” Across the courtyard from the residential complex where Britten lives, neighbors and former teachers Sharon Narrod and Carol Miller said they each greeted about 15 people from the parade. Narrod made popcorn for his guests, while Miller cut grapes for the children.

“When they arrived they were strangers. When they left we had hugs,” said Narrod, 70.

Highland Park residents Sara and Ari Scharg were among those who took refuge with Britten, along with their six and seven-year-old children. “She was absolutely our guardian angel who led us to safety,” said Sara Scharg, 39.

“We grabbed the kids and didn’t know where to go,” said Ari Scharg, 40. Other locals also offered help to foreigners.

Amy Hohman, who lives next to the parade route, said she told a couple with a young baby to come to her building for safety, without knowing their names. “It’s Mayberry,” the 54-year-old fitness instructor said of Highland Park, referring to the fictional small town in North Carolina that served as the setting for two popular American television sitcoms, “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Mayberry RFD”.

A day after the shooting, people tried to return to some sense of normalcy. They went out to walk their dogs and shop at local stores for groceries and newspapers with headlines about the tragedy. “My little world of mine is turned upside down now,” said 74-year-old Mark Kaplan.

Residents were still in shock and tears and said they were trying to figure out how to move on. “I think the city will be much stronger because of how people have taken care of each other,” Britten said. “It’s going to take a long time.”

(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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