HIGHLAND PARK: A gunman armed with a high-powered rifle shot dead at least six people at a parade to mark US Independence Day in a wealthy Chicago suburb on Monday -- the latest in a series of shocking mass shootings, this time on a holiday celebrating all things American.
Emergency officials in Highland Park, Illinois said around two dozen people, including at least one child, had been hospitalized -– some in critical condition -- and a massive police manhunt was underway for the shooter, who was still on the loose and described as a white male aged 18-20.
Along the parade route, abandoned chairs, balloons and other belongings could be seen scattered after panicked spectators fled for their lives.
"Everyone thought it was fireworks," one parade-goer, identified only as Zoe, told CNN.
"My dad thought it was part of the show, and I'm like, 'Dad, no... something is wrong.' And I grabbed him. And I looked back at him, and then it was just a sea of panic, and people just falling and falling."
As they ran, she said that some 20 feet behind her, "I saw a girl shot and killed... saw her die."
Zoe said they first hid behind a dumpster before police pulled them into the basement of a sporting goods store with other parade spectators, several of whom were injured, including a man who appeared to have been shot in the ear and a girl who was shot in the leg.
When they were finally able to leave, she told CNN, the parade route resembled "a battle zone. And it's disgusting."
Police officials said the shooting began around 10.14am, when the parade was approximately three-quarters of the way through.
"It sounds like spectators were targeted... So, very random, very intentional and very sad," said Lake County Major Crime Task Force spokesman Christopher Covelli.
Lake County coroner Jennifer Banek said five of the six people killed, all adults, had died at the scene. The sixth was taken to hospital but succumbed to wounds there.
Fire chief Joe Schrage said among the wounded was at least one child, in critical condition.
Police said the shooter was using a "high-powered rifle," and "firearm evidence" had been located on a nearby rooftop.
"All indications is he was discreet, he was very difficult to see," said Covelli.
President Joe Biden voiced his shock at the latest shooting and vowed to keep fighting "the epidemic of gun violence" sweeping the country.
"I'm not going to give up," he said.
Last week, Biden signed the first significant federal bill on gun safety in decades, just days after the Supreme Court ruled that Americans have a fundamental right to carry a handgun in public.
The shooting cast a pall over America's most patriotic holiday, in which towns and cities across the country hold parades such as the one in Highland Park while citizens -- many dressed in variations on the US flag -- hold barbecues and other celebrations.
"On a day that we came together to celebrate community and freedom, we're instead mourning the tragic loss of life and struggling with the terror that was brought upon us," Highland Park's mayor Nancy Rotering said in a statement condemning the attack.
- 'Enough is enough' -
The shooting is part of a wave of gun violence plaguing the United States, where approximately 40,000 deaths a year are caused by firearms, including suicides, according to the Gun Violence Archive website.
The debate over gun control -- a deeply divisive issue in the country -- was reignited by two massacres in May that saw 10 Black supermarket shoppers gunned down in upstate New York and 21 people, mostly young children, slain at an elementary school in Texas.
Multiple law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, the state police and the local sheriff's office, were assisting with the response in Highland Park.
US Representative Brad Schneider, who was at the parade, said on Twitter that "a shooter struck in Highland Park during the Independence Day parade."
"Hearing of loss of life and others injured. My condolences to the family and loved ones; my prayers for the injured and for my community," he wrote, adding: "Enough is enough!"