Arizonan who survived Highland Park parade shooting describes a “warzone”

Zoe Pawelczak said she spent many childhood summers in the Illinois suburb, attending the parade and even walking in it as a child.
Published: Jul. 7, 2022 at 6:02 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) --A former Arizona teacher says she was at the Highland Park parade with her father during the mass shooting that killed seven and injured at least 30.

“It’s an old tradition from when I was a kid to go to the Highland Park parade with my parents. We were just very excited to go there again,” Zoe Pawelczak said.

Pawelczak attended ASU and taught in Arizona for the last two years. Her dad and grandmother both grew up in Highland Park. She said she spent many childhood summers in the Illinois suburb, attending the parade and even walking in it as a child. Pawelczak and her dad got to the parade early to get a good seat, front and center. She remembers watching the horses, veterans, and the marching band.

“After the marching band had passed us, we had heard bang bang bang bang bang--and it just didn’t stop,” Pawelczak said. “Everyone thought that it was the veterans doing a military salute or someone setting off fireworks, so everyone was going into the street to look to see, oh what’s this? What show is happening?” However, she said she knew something wasn’t right

“It just didn’t stop. It was so rhythmic and that’s when I grabbed my dad and I was like, ‘something’s wrong! Something’s wrong! Someone’s shooting, we have to run,’” Pawelczak said. “In a split second everyone was screaming and everyone from down at that intersection was running towards us and we were just running. I looked back at my dad and that’s when I saw a woman fall, just get shot and fall. You know, it’s a small parade and I really felt like one in every 10 people was just falling.

Pawelczak and her father hid in an alcove of a storefront and then behind dumpsters. She said someone she didn’t know put his kids in the dumpster and asked her to watch over the children while he looked for other family members. Once the gunfire stopped, they stepped back into the street to see something she’ll never forget.

“We got out from behind the dumpsters, we were all on the streets and that’s when we saw so many--just it was like nothing you ever think you’ll see. It looks like images you imagine after a great bombing, a war scene,” she said.

Then, she said police escorted them into a sporting goods store because the gunman was still at large. She said many people were hiding in the basement, seeking refuge, some of them were injured.

“As we were walking by I saw, I mean at least 3 people who had passed away just within 10 feet,” Pawelczak said. Pawelczak said a few hours later, they got word about the alleged gunman. “The second my dad heard that name, it looked like his whole body went numb and his face went completely blank, and he had to sit down and he almost started hyperventilating.” She said her father grew up with the gunman’s father.

“They’ve known each other since they were 7--but he’s met the gunman before, like a couple of times while he was younger. He said he always clearly had mental health problems,” Pawelczak said. “As my dad said, everyone knew that this was not someone who would be responsible with such a thing.”

The former Arizona teacher and her father were not injured in the shooting.