CHICAGO — Israel’s top diplomat to the US Midwest revealed Tuesday that as many as four Jewish community members were among the seven fatalities in the mass shooting that took place at a July 4th parade in a suburb of Chicago.
Consul General in Chicago Yinam Cohen told The Times of Israel his office has confirmed that two of the casualties were Jews and that there were “indications” that two more of the victims may also have been Jewish. Highland Park, where the Monday shooting took place, has a large Jewish community, making up a third of the roughly 30,000 people in the affluent town.
Only two of the victims had been publicly identified as of Tuesday afternoon and one of them — Jacki Sundheim — was Jewish. Sundheim was the events and b’nei mitzvah coordinator at a nearby Reform synagogue, North Shore Congregation Israel.
Cohen told Channel 12 that “despite rumors [to the contrary]… all indications are that there are no Israelis among the dead.”
Asked whether the attack was aimed at the Jewish community, Cohen said that did not appear to be the case. “There are currently no indications that this was an antisemitic incident, even though the profile of the attacker might be thought to match such an incident.”
The suspect has been identified as Robert (Bobby) E. Crimo III, a 22-year-old who regularly posted content glorifying violence on his social media channels. In addition to killing seven people, Crimo is suspected of injuring at least 31 others, some of them critically, when he opened fire at the parade from a business’s rooftop, sending hundreds of marchers, parents with strollers and children on bicycles fleeing in terror.
“The incident took place at a July 4 parade, [so] there is nothing to connect this to a Jewish incident,” Cohen told Channel 12, adding that he is in touch with local authorities and Jewish community leaders as their investigation continues.
Speaking later to The Times of Israel, Cohen said the Israeli consulate is also looking into whether it would be able to connect professional trauma counselors in Israel with local authorities and community members.
“We, unfortunately, have a lot of experience with this, and it’s something we want to offer to the local authorities, as the community endured very difficult trauma yesterday and will continue grappling with it in the days and weeks ahead.”
The consulate has already connected community leaders in Chicago’s South Side with Natal, an Israeli organization that treats victims of terror-related trauma and the group’s professionals. The training the locals received from Natal allowed them to reach some 45,000 trauma victims in Chicago.
In addition to Sundheim, authorities have identified another victim as Nicholas Toledo, a 78-year-old father of eight and a grandfather from Mexico who had come to the US two months ago to visit relatives after being kept apart for the last few years due to COVID.
The North Shore of Chicago’s large Jewish community has also made it a common destination for Israelis. Chaim Vachman moved with his family to the nearby suburb of Deerfield from the central Israeli town of Mazkeret Batya in 2019 and was at the Highland Park parade with his wife and seven-year-old daughter, less than 200 feet from where the bullets sprayed.
Vachman, 45, said that he did not register the initial gunshots, assuming they were fireworks, but realized that he was in the midst of a mass-shooting attack when he heard the suspect lock in his second magazine. He glanced at his wife, who quickly ran with their daughter away from the shooting while Vachman stayed behind and took cover.
Explaining his decision not to flee with the rest of the crowd, Vachman said, “I didn’t feel like the bullets were coming in my direction. If I ran away, my back would be to the incident and I wouldn’t have been unable to properly respond.”
The Israeli Navy veteran was armed at the time but did not draw his weapon, noting that there were already dozens of police officers there and recognizing that doing so could have sparked more chaos.
Vachman acknowledged that gun carriers are relatively rare in the North Shore suburbs. “Guns are seen as something impure and people living here prefer to view it as a sterile bubble, regardless of the fact that seven other people were gunned down in Chicago on the same weekend,” he said.
The Israeli expat also noted the difficulty locals are having in processing the incident, given that such mass shootings are not as commonplace in Highland Park.
“People here are very emotional and easily have taken this kind of incident to all sorts of drastic directions,” Vachman said, pointing to nearby towns’ cancellations of their respective 4th of July parades after news of the shooting broke and the decisions by locals to continue sheltering in place even after it was clear that the threat had subsided.
“These reactions are human and happen everywhere, but in Israel, people are more used to this sort of thing and the circle of panic isn’t as wide,” he said.
Still, Vachman said the experience has not changed his perception of the area or his family’s plans to stay in the Chicago vicinity for the foreseeable future.