HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. – The face of the man standing in front of Erin Vine turned almost white with fear. That’s when she knew the pops she heard weren’t Fourth of July fireworks. They were gunshots.
She grabbed her 6-year-old daughter, Nina, and ran, dodging paradegoers as they fled the shooting, racing south down Green Bay Road and around the corner to a cluster of garbage bins behind the stores that line the parade route.
Vine pulled a recycling bin and a wooden pallet in close, so she and her daughter were fully enclosed. She sent three quick texts to her husband, Eli:
'We just have to hide. We have to stay down.'
She tried to calm her crying daughter: “We just have to hide. We have to stay down. We’re going to be fine. We just have to stay down.”
She heard screams and, through the slats in the wood pallet, saw police officers putting on bulletproof vests and loading rifles.
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The mother and daughter hid among the garbage bins for six terrifying minutes. A friend called.
“Why are you whispering?” the friend asked.
“We’re hiding,” Vine replied.
The friend was driving nearby, so Vine sprinted with her daughter for about a block and leaped into the friend’s car.
Vine, probably still in shock, shared this story with me for the same reason I’m sharing it with you: People need to know that the words “mass shooting” don’t do justice to the events that unfold when someone opens fire on a group of human beings. Those words fail the people whose lives, in an instant, are irrevocably changed. They wholly overlook the ripple effect of each crack of a high-powered rifle aimed to kill.
'I really thought it was a bad dream'
On Tuesday, Vine was at a nearby forest preserve, walking. She said she wanted to walk until her legs got tired. Nothing felt real.
Monday night, long after the shooting, her daughter said she was afraid to go outside. She said she never wanted to go to a parade again. She woke up in the night, crying hysterically.
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By Tuesday morning, Vine had already made an appointment to take her to a therapist in the afternoon.
“I woke up this morning, and I really thought it was a bad dream,” she said, sitting on a bench in the forest preserve late in the humid morning, across from a line of young sumacs sagging in the summer heat. “It makes you so grateful for everyone in your life, and you want to hug them harder.”
Vine’s husband, Eli, decided not to go to this year’s parade. He tried to explain the panic he felt when he saw his wife’s texts and knew that she and Nina were in danger.
“It was just unreal,” he said. “I started heading there right away, and I felt guilty that I wasn’t there.”
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The couple’s older daughter, Alexandra, 10, is at a summer camp in Wisconsin.
The what-ifs this one family must absorb are staggering. But the ripples of Monday’s parade massacre carry beyond the mother, father and daughters.
Erin Vine has a friend who was shot and is in the hospital.
A few months ago, she had been in touch with Jacki Sundheim, the B'nei Mitzvah coordinator at the family’s synagogue, North Shore Congregation Israel. Vine was planning for her older daughter’s bat mitzvah, even though it’s a couple of years away. Sundheim was killed in the parade shooting.
On the bench in the forest preserve, Vine scrolled through her phone and found the most recent email exchange.
“She was just so kind,” she said, “and it’s just …” Her voice trailed off.
That Vine could function at all seemed remarkable. The weight of what she and her daughter experienced is unimaginable.
Put yourself there. You owe it to the Vine family, and to the seven people killed, and to the more than 20 people injured, and to the untold numbers touched by ripples from this tragedy – you owe it to them to put yourself in Erin Vine’s shoes and imagine yourself there.
Smiles and selfies, then chaos
A happy, grinning parent/child selfie along a parade route among friends and neighbors, the little one’s neck draped in red, silver and blue star beads. Then a series of concussive pops and looks of terror from those realizing what's happening.
You grab your child and run, frightened and desperate. The child is screaming, terrified. You see a row of garbage cans and push your way between them, pulling one another tight, praying it’s enough to keep you both hidden.
You try to console the child while texting your spouse, the sounds and screams of a panicked crowd everywhere, police with long guns and bulletproof vests moving in.
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Six minutes. You’re in that space, wedged between trash bins, walled off with an old wooden pallet, for six minutes.
You escape. You tell your child you’re all safe. You hold your child in her bed as she cries from the trauma. You wonder if life will ever be the same.
That’s what a mass shooting means. It isn’t a grim tally of the dead and wounded. It’s an explosion of visceral terror felt in all directions. It’s a child’s cry in the night. It’s a parent’s worry and the gut-wrenching, relentless thoughts of “What if?”
The Vine family shared their story with me because they believe it’s important for people to hear.
It’s well past time America listens, because it’s a story already told far too many times.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mom's texts at Highland Park shooting: 'Gunshots. Omg. We're hiding.'