Dayton native, family flee from gunshots during Chicago mass shooting: ‘This can’t be happening.”

Michael and Aviva Waitz were marching in Highland Park's Independence Day parade with children Emma, 5, and Jonah, 6, Monday, July 4, 2022, when they heard what they initially believed to be fireworks. The family fled the scene, which was around the corner from where a gunman on a rooftop opened fire on the parade, killing at least seven people and wounding at least 30.

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Michael and Aviva Waitz were marching in Highland Park's Independence Day parade with children Emma, 5, and Jonah, 6, Monday, July 4, 2022, when they heard what they initially believed to be fireworks. The family fled the scene, which was around the corner from where a gunman on a rooftop opened fire on the parade, killing at least seven people and wounding at least 30.

When the sound of gunshots filled the air during Monday’s mass shooting in suburban Chicago, Dayton native Aviva Waitz didn’t immediately flee the area.

“It sounded like fireworks,” she said.

Waitz, 37, who grew up in Vandalia and headed off to Chicago in 2003 for college and moved to Highland Park in 2020, was marching in the parade with her childrens’ camp, but had yet to turn the corner leading to the spot where a gunman on a rooftop opened fire on an Independence Day parade, killing at least seven people and wounding at least 30.

Husband Michael Waitz and 5-year-old daughter Emma doled out candy at the front of a float and Waitz trailed it with 6-year-old son Jonah.

“People started running towards us, and at the time I couldn’t find them, so I just grabbed my son’s hand and started running the opposite direction,” she said. “People weren’t sure if it was fireworks yet and then all of sudden we started hearing ‘It was a gun! It was a gun! Keep running! Keep running!’”

Explore6 dead, 30 hurt in shooting at Chicago-area July 4 parade

That’s exactly what they did, and when she and Jonah had escaped the area, Waitz called her husband to see where he was.

“Luckily, he was able to grab my daughter and find our car,” she said. “He threw her in, got in the car and I was able to drop a pin of where I was because I was on a random side street and he was able to come pick us up.”

Although the entire incident, from fleeing to being able to meet up with her husband and daughter lasted only about 10 to 15 minutes, “it seemed like hours,” Waitz said.

Waitz and family also managed 10 minutes later to track down and pick up her in-laws, who had parked where the shooting ended up occurring but ended up seated a block away on the same street.

“The crazy thing is my in laws had parked at Second and Central, which is the corner where the shooting happened, and they were going to stand there just like by where they parked and our good friends had texted them where they were sitting and said ‘Come sit with us’ and luckily they had moved and sat with our friend or otherwise they would have been right there.”

ExplorePolice: Gunman fired more than 70 rounds at July 4 parade

At first, when people thought it was fireworks and were running from the scene based on that, Waitz said she thought “How is this America? That like now we’re scared of fireworks and just any loud noise puts us on edge?”

Then, when she realized it was actual gunshots, a different question came to mind: How could this have happened in what she said is a tight-knit community?

“We live in a bubble here,” she said. “Nothing bad happens. Everyone knows each other. It’s a very affluent area. I was just like ‘This can’t be happening and how is my child now subjected to this?’”

The day after the parade, fleeing for their lives is still having an effect on the family.

“The camp had handed all the kid bags of candy and toys to hand out to everyone at the parade ... and the kids saw them this morning and said ‘Those are from the scary parade. We never want to go to a parade again,’” Waitz said. “I don’t think we’ll ever be able to go to a large crowd gathering without them being nervous.”

She said she cannot believe her children have to grow up in a world where mass shootings are now a common, every day occurrence.

“It’s crazy,” Waitz said. “I mean even when it happened in Dayton, at the Oregon District, you just don’t think these small towns it could be happen to. You’re just in your own little bubble and everything is good and happy until it’s not.”

She called what happened “a huge issue that is obviously not going anywhere.”

“Guns are an issue, mental health is an issue,” she said. “This parade had a ton of police officers, firemen, all these people all around us and we still couldn’t get protected. Something needs to happen in the fact that people can just walk into a store and buy an automatic rifle without any questions asked is absurd.”

Waitz’s father, retired longtime Dayton Daily News sports writer Marc Katz, told this news outlet that mass shootings are now “a uniquely American crisis” that are not limited to big cities, but can happen in smaller places like Dayton; Uvaldi, Texas; Peoria, Illinois and other smaller communities nationwide.

“ ... When something bad happens there, then you realize that it could happen anywhere ... and that’s frightening,” he said. “It does hit closer when it’s your own children and grandchildren.”

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