JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – July 4 celebrations throughout the Jacksonville area typically attract thousands of people, but this year, they follow a deadly shooting in Illinois that killed six people and injured 24 others.
Gabriela Martinez told News4JAX she was working near the parade route when she heard the gunfire, but first thought she was hearing fireworks.
“When I see people running all over, I was like, no. This has to be something else,” Martinez said.
“Someone yelled ‘It’s a shooting. It’s a shooting,’” she added. “Everyone was crying and trying to hide in the store. Then right away, I called my sister.”
Her sister was marching in the parade when the shooter opened fire. Martinez said she wasted no time trying to get ahold of her sister to make sure she was alive and well.
“She answers right away. She was still running and said yes, we’re fine. Were safe,” Martinez said.
And while the shooting prompted many Fourth of July celebrations to be canceled, people in Jacksonville Beach were able to enjoy festivities without fearing for their safety.
“I feel as safe as I can be,” Jayson Cabutto told us. “You never know what’s going to happen.”
“I really do feel safe,” Liza Strichkob said.
“You know what you put yourself into and that’s that,” Elijah Cepeda said. “You take the risk.”
Over at the Riverfront Plaza in Downtown Jacksonville, Fourth of July revelers were also feeling pretty good about being out, especially with the abundance of police in just about every direction.
“We feel safe in and around Jacksonville,” Dave Wilson said. “That was one of the reasons we felt good leaving the house and coming out.”
The Peters family heard about the tragedy in Illinois, and it did not deter them from enjoying festivities.
“I feel pretty safe,” Kevin Peters said.
“Can anything happen? Sure. Most likely not,” Kathleen Peters told us.
“I was a bit shaken when I heard about it because I have young kids, but you can’t stop that. You can’t let that stop you from living,” Gaea Peters said.
“I feel safe in the daylight. At night, I’m not as comfortable,” Steve Peters said.
That’s because, he said, he can’t see who’s doing what in the dark, especially from elevated areas near the Riverfront Plaza.
This is why former FBI Agent Toni Chrabot, who is now a security expert, identifies the events as “soft targets,” or places that are vulnerable to an attack. That’s especially true in Highland Park, where a gunman opened fire in Illinois.
“Obviously, this was a calculated move on the Fourth of July, and this appears to be a sniper type of activity, of shooting down into a large crowd that is unsuspecting,” Chrabot said. “This is just the epitome of hitting soft targets with innocent people.”
Terrence Milford lives 30 minutes away from Highland Park and was just there days ago with his family attending a concert, which is also a soft target.
“No matter how much you prepare, you just really don’t know what’s going to happen, unfortunately, and with the uptick in gun violence and mass shootings, it makes you really want to pick and choose where you go,” Milford said. “You pick and choose and pray that everything works out for you and your family and loved ones.”