When Aisha Tahir went to buy funnel cake for her kids at the end of a long day at Six Flags Great America, she saw things scattered around the kitchen of the food shack. People hid under the windows.
They feared for his life after gunman shot two people in the Gurnee amusement park parking lot Sunday night.
“The way people panicked made us feel like the shooter was close. And when we saw police go into the park, we thought the shooter was on the loose somewhere inside,” the Kenosha resident said.
The shooting was not random and appeared to be targeted, Gurnee police said. No arrests had been made as of Monday and police were still investigating, according to Gurnee police spokesman Shawn Gaylor.
But the shots sparked chaos, confusion and fear among hundreds of park visitors.
Many fled to the same parking lot where the shots were fired. Others jumped over fences and tried to break through locked exit gates to escape.
The bullets struck a 17-year-old boy from Aurora in the upper thigh and a 19-year-old woman from Appleton, Wisconsin, in the lower leg, police said. Both shooting victims were treated at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville for non-life-threatening injuries and were released Sunday night, police said. A third victim who suffered a shoulder injury refused further treatment.
After noticing visitors sheltering at the funnel cake stand, Tahir saw people running and heard screams about the shooter. His family ran to the bathroom, where an employee led them to a hiding place before leading them out of the park 20 minutes later.
He lied to his children while they hid. The commotion was due to the fireworks, he told them she. But the children heard people yelling about the shooter.
Tahir worries that they will go back to school in two weeks. She knows that no place is safe, she said. The 32-year-old mother had previously spoken to her children about what to do if a gunman attacks her school. They need to be prepared wherever they go, she said.
“I feel powerless. I don’t know what to do to make lawmakers understand that gun violence must end,” he said.
Authorities said a white sedan entered the Six Flags parking lot around 7:50 p.m. and drove toward the park’s main entrance. Gurnee police said more than one person got out of the sedan “and started shooting at another person in the parking lot.” After firing multiple shots, they “returned to the white sedan and quickly left the area,” according to a Gurnee police news release.
“This was not an active shooter incident inside the park,” police wrote.
Eddie Cárdenas was with his fiancee and their three children when his mother-in-law called. He had left the park for the car to start preparing food.
“Stay inside the park. There’s a shooter here. There’s a shooter here. There are bodies falling,” he yelled into the phone after watching the shooting unfold.
Shocked by the news, Cárdenas and his fiancée began making plans. But then dozens of people started running, Cardenas said.
There is a shooter! There is a shooter! There is a shooter! she remembered hearing.
The couple took their children, a 7-year-old boy, a 5-year-old boy, and a 5-month-old girl, and started running. They took shelter behind the Raging Bull steel roller coaster and took off again a few moments later.
His stroller was moving too slowly, so Cardenas threw it over and put his 5-year-old son on his shoulder. His fiancee also left a bag. His 7-year-old son ran ahead and almost got lost in the confusion. Cárdenas saw the police with weapons in hand. In a video he shared with the Tribune, people yelled and yelled at children.
Outside the park, Cardenas met the nearly 30 family members he had joined for the Great America ride. He saw scared guys waiting for their teenage sons, who had left earlier to go on the rides.
“We didn’t know,” the 30-year-old Joliet man said. “It was a huge panic.”
His 7-year-old son said he never wanted to go to Six Flags again.
His 5-year-old son tossed his shiny plastic toy guns into a garbage bag Monday morning.
“These are not toys,” he told his parents, according to Cárdenas.
His wife ordered the children, who will soon be going back to school, five-pound backpack protectors.
After the shooting, the family took a moment to pray in the car. One of Cárdenas’ sons thanked God that the family was not killed.
Cardenas began to cry.
“The world we live in, where our 5 and 7 year olds have to worry about shootings, getting shot and dying, it’s scary. It’s a really scary world,” she said.
To protect Six Flags Great America, authorities use security cameras inside the park and in the parking lot, a Six Flags spokesperson said. Uniformed and plainclothes patrols patrol the park, which has a Gurnee Police Department substation on site.
“Six Flags devotes our greatest amount of time, talent and resources to safety,” Rachel Kendziora, a spokeswoman for Six Flags, told the Tribune.
“Layers of preventive measures have been implemented both inside and outside the park for the protection of visitors and team members. … We are incredibly grateful to our team members who responded professionally to serve our guests, and to the Gurnee Police Department for their continued presence and commitment to Six Flags Great America,” said Kendziora.
Great America amusement park is 18 miles from Highland Park, where a shooter opened fire on a crowd gathered for a 4th of July paradekilling seven and wounding dozens.
Tane Walker was on a Highland Park parade float when the shooting occurred. On Sunday, she had left Six Flags earlier in the afternoon, hours before crowds in Chicago’s northern suburbs again fled fearing gun violence this summer.
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Concerns about what might happen if a gunman tried to attack the park crossed his mind early Sunday, the 16-year-old said. He feels unsafe leaving the house or going anywhere in public, he added.
Walker will soon return to classes at the school where he and his family received trauma counseling after the Highland Park shooting.
“No place is really safe until a change is made,” he said.
Freelancer Cliff Ward contributed.