A Highland Park Doctor Who Helped Save Shooting Victims Asks: How Can We Keep Letting This Happen?

·3 min read
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A police officer picks up a water-logged American flag, Tuesday, July 5, 2022, left behind after Monday's mass shooting in Highland Park, Ill. Credit - Stacey Wescott—Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service/Getty Images

As almost everyone else fled, Dr. David Baum ran to help. The obstetrician from Highland Park, Ill., waited until the gunfire at his home city’s beloved Fourth of July parade stopped and then he went to work—inserting IVs, moving wounded victims, and performing chest compressions on a critically wounded 9-year-old boy.

“Instinctively as a physician, you’re told not to abandon an opportunity to help,” the 64-year-old tells TIME.

But a day later, after the adrenaline of that terrible scene had worn off, he was left to worry for his family, grieve for his community—and wonder how his country can continue to let this happen.

“I tried to help, but the people who were dead were almost immediately identified as un-resuscitable. They had injuries that I saw that were unspeakable,” he says. “The amount of blood that was on the sidewalk was unimaginable.”

Police say that a 21-year-old suspect fired on the parade at least 70 times with an AR-15-style rifle while perched on a rooftop. At least 45 people were shot—seven of them died.

Dr. David Baum (left) and his wife Debra<span class="copyright">Courtesy Debra Baum</span>
Dr. David Baum (left) and his wife DebraCourtesy Debra Baum

Baum’s daughter, his son-in-law and his two-year-old grandson—pushing a little decorated lawn mower—marched in the children’s parade earlier Monday before the shooting began. “I feel sort of empty and very sad about what just happened with my kids and what my kids had to live through,” Baum says. “I’m worried about my daughter and my son-in-law allowing [their son] to live life [while] in complete fear. Every day—when they send him to camp, if he goes to a water park, if he goes out riding his bike. How do you protect these places?”

Baum sees his hometown as only the latest to suffer the tragedy of mass shootings—and not likely the last. In May, young men armed with similar weapons to the one used in Highland Park attacked a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y., killing 10, and an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, killing 19 children and two teachers.

“We were slapped by just pure evil. A very sick person who was allowed to purchase a high power gun,” Baum says. The shooting, and others like it, show that “there is no venue that you can protect.”

Baum says he lives just half a mile from the suspect’s family, which is well known in the city of 30,000. Even Mayor Nancy Rotering revealed that she was the suspect’s Cub Scout leader years ago.

Baum’s hometown controversially banned the sale of AR-15 and AK-47 assault rifles in 2013 in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting. But the suspect legally purchased the rifle used in the shooting elsewhere in Illinois. He also bought four other guns, despite the Illinois State Police being alerted that police were called to his family’s home in 2019 when he threatened to “kill everyone,” according to authorities.

“Highland Park is a very nice community. It’s always felt safe. I’ve always felt there was a lot of community spirit,” Baum says. But his experience has left him wondering what must be done to stop what happened in Highland Park from visiting more communities.

“Why can my 24-year-old son not rent a car and not get a drink until 21 but he could get a high-powered assault rifle legally at the age of 18?” Baum asks. “These are weapons of war. There is no purpose for a weapon like this in the hands of a 22-year-old.”

“It does not make sense.”