In the moments after a gunman opened fire on a July 4 parade in Highland Park, Illinois, bystanders wasted almost no time rushing to aid the victims.
Among them was David Baum, a local physician, who was standing with members of his family just 200 feet from the majority of the casualties, he said.
“All of a sudden, you heard these Howitzer-type noises going off. Immediately people started screaming ‘Bodies down, shooter,’ and they all started scattering,” he recalled.
“I told my family to run,” Baum said. He remained briefly in a location that was sheltered from the gunfire. “Then I kind of just stuck around until I thought maybe, maybe there was no longer the threat.”
After the shooting stopped, “there were a lot of people screaming,” he said.
“There were six bodies that were immediately assessed to be dead. Those bodies were literally blown up by these bullets.” (Authorities confirmed Monday afternoon that at least six people had been killed; the gunman remained at large.)
Other victims were hit in the arms or legs, Baum said. “I saw horrific, devastating injuries, the kind that you normally see in a war.”
As emergency responders tended to victims, Baum said he pitched in with other healthcare professionals, including a nurse, a nurse practitioner, an emergency room doctor, and a plastic surgeon.
The July 4 parade is an annual event in Highland Park, a leafy suburb north of Chicago. According to Baum, a children’s parade preceded the main event. His daughter, son-in-law, and grandson all participated in it; his grandson pushed a toy lawnmower as he walked.
Following the children’s event, Baum said, community ambulances, fire trucks, and police vehicles took their turn in the festivities. But as the Highland Park High School band rolled through, the gleeful day was shattered by gunshots.
Monday’s attack will likely take the community years to process, as have similar mass shootings that have plagued the country. This year alone, there have been more than a dozen such shootings, including one in May at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 kids and two teachers dead.
“I don't think I need to describe the horrific nature of what the bullets did to those bodies, but it was horrific,” said Baum of Monday’s attack. “As a physician for 33 years, blood doesn't bother me. But seeing people's heads blown up, and bodies eviscerated, would be disturbing to anyone who was there besides maybe a physician.”
He sought to downplay his work aiding the victims, “I do not want to be out there as anything other than, like, a physician who did not run for his life,” Baum added. “This is not hero stuff I did. The only thing I didn't do was run away.”