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Manhunt underway for gunman after mass shooting at July 4th parade in Highland Park, Illinois

(CNN) — A mass shooting at an Independence Day parade Monday in a suburb outside Chicago, Illinois, left at least six people dead, wounded about two dozen others and has sparked an extensive manhunt for an unidentified gunman, authorities said.

Firearm evidence was found on the rooftop of a business in Highland Park, police commander Chris O’Neill said. The firearm was a “high-powered rifle” and the attack on parade attendees appeared to be “random” and “intentional,” said Christopher Covelli, spokesman for the Lake County Major Crime Task Force.

Authorities described the suspect as a white man between 18-20 years old with a small build, long black hair and wearing a T-shirt. They described the suspect as “armed and dangerous” and advised people to shelter in place.

A total of 31 people were transported to two hospitals, according to NorthShore University Health System spokesperson Jim Anthony. The vast majority had gunshot wounds, while other injuries were caused in the chaos after the shooting, he said.

The shooting in Highland Park, about 25 miles north of Chicago, caused hundreds of parade attendees to flee and triggered a large police response of local, state and federal officers, including the FBI.

Zoe Pawelczak, who attended the Independence Day parade with her father, said parade-goers initially thought the array of pops were fireworks given the occasion.

“And I was like, something’s wrong. I grabbed my dad and started running. All of a sudden everyone behind us started running,” she said. “I looked back probably 20 feet away from me. I saw a girl shot and killed.”

They hid behind a dumpster for about an hour until police moved them into a sporting goods store and then eventually escorted them back to their car, she said. She saw one person who had been shot in the ear and had blood all over his face and another girl who was shot in the leg, she said.

“It looked like a battle zone, and it’s disgusting. It’s really disgusting,” she said.

The incident marks at least the 308th mass shooting in the US this year, according to data compiled by the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit tracking such incidents. The organization defines a mass shooting as involving four or more people shot, not including the shooter.

There have been 11 mass shootings in the first four days of July, including three on July 4 alone, in Richmond, Virginia; Chicago and Highland Park, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

The carnage punctuates an already bloody American spring and summer, including an 18-year-old’s racist attack at a New York supermarket that killed 10 and another 18-year-old’s shooting at a Texas school that left 19 students and two teachers dead.

In the wake of those massacres, President Joe Biden just nine days ago signed into law the first major federal gun safety legislation in decades, marking a significant bipartisan breakthrough on one of the most contentious policy issues in Washington.

Witnesses say gunshots caused stampede

Witnesses at the scene who spoke to CNN described a peaceful parade pierced by the sudden ring of gunfire and ensuing chaos.

Miles Zaremski said he heard what he believed to be about 20 to 30 gunshots, in two consecutive spurts of gunfire, at about 10:20 a.m. CT, shortly after the start of the parade. He told CNN he saw a number of people bloodied and on the ground and described the scene as chaotic.

Video taken by a witness, Hugo Aguilera, shows an ambulance turning around on the parade route and a police car with sirens on, as people gathered on the grassy sidewalk. Aerial video from CNN affiliate WLS shows abandoned lawn chairs up and down the parade route amid a heavy police presence.

Warren Fried, who attended the parade with his wife and 7-year-old twins, said he watched the police and ambulance pass by him at the parade and afterward heard an array of gunshots. People began yelling “shooter” and “run” and he and his family fled toward their car for safety.

“People were hiding, kids were on the streets looking for their parents, just in a state of shock,” he said.

US Rep. Brad Schneider, a Democrat who represents the area, confirmed he was on scene during the shooting in a tweet.

“My campaign team and I were gathering at the start of the parade when the shooting started. My team and I are safe and secure,” he said.

Jeff Leon, 57, told CNN the shots sounded like “firecrackers in a garbage can,” and it wasn’t until he saw police officers reacting, that he knew anything had happened.

“The police started reacting, and I saw some people falling,” Leon said. “We just took off. And, you know, we, we were hiding behind cars, folding into the next car and making our way.”

Jose Alamar, an employee at a nearby gas station, said about 20 people ran into the gas station and took shelter after the shooting started.

The suburb of Highland Park has a population of about 30,000 people and has a per capita income of about $90,000, nearly triple the US average, according to US Census data.

The July 4th parade was expected to feature floats, marching bands, novelty groups, community entries and other special entertainment, the city said on its website. It was scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. CT at the intersection of Laurel and St. Johns Avenues, and was set to head north on St. Johns Avenue and then west on Central Avenue and continue to Sunset Park, the city said.

Nearby suburbs of Deerfield and Evanston canceled their July 4th parades in the wake of the shooting.

(Copyright (c) 2022 CNN. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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