A father of three is telling the story of how his family survived thanks to his wife’s quick thinking in the middle of chaos when a 21-year-old gunman opened fire during a 4th of July parade in Highland ParkIll., killing seven people and insulting over 30 more.
Shawn Cotreau, 46, says there’s one thing his three sons, 2, 9, and 11, look forward to every year: Visiting their grandparents in Highland Park, Illinois, and attending the annual 4th of July parade.
“They love it,” Cotreau, who is from Boston, told TODAY Parents. His wife, Jacqueline, grew up in Highland Park, and her family has lived there for 34 years.
“My kids were up at 6 am,” he added. “They got their grandparents up and got them to drive one of their cars down to where they wanted to sit.”
As his children were waving at floats and waiting for those walking in the parade to pass out candy, Cotreau says he heard two loud clicks and quickly turned around, frustrated that someone would have the audacity to light fireworks during a parade.
“I turn around, and I see this guy on a roof with a rifle,” Cotreau says. “And all of a sudden he just opens up, and all you could hear was (gunfire noise): Just never stopping.”
‘My wife, who is amazing, got our whole family up’
Cotreau says in that moment, he could not move—he stared at the shooter as bullets hit a tree directly in front of him.
“I was frozen in sand, looking at this guy with a gun and bullets,” he explained. “My wife, who is amazing, got our whole family up.”
Cotreau says Jacqueline, 42, immediately sprang into action, yelling at him to move and running with their 11- and 9-year-old. Cotreau then picked up his 2-year-old and, with his child in his arms, sprinted to safety, following his wife and sons as they ran down the street before turning a corner and hiding in the back of a pick-up truck.
“We didn’t know if he was going to jump off the roof; we didn’t know where he could be,” he said. “Finally, we heard the shooting stop so we made our way from that spot, which was probably only 100 or 200 feet from the shooting, to four blocks away and to our other car.”
Cotreau and his family offered rides to anyone who was near and needed one, and after what he estimates to be 35 minutes they made it out of the area and safely home.
Days later, Cotreau says he can’t stop thinking about how vital it was that his wife reacted so quickly — a lesson he wants everyone to learn from his experience.
“Don’t wait, no matter who it is, what it is. This is going to continue to happen, unfortunately, and until we figure something out, that reaction time is so crucial for anybody; any family,” he says. “I waited, my wife didn’t. Thank God she was with me — three more seconds and those bullets could have been in me.”
‘They’re struggling right now’
Coteau says that while his family is certainly lucky to be alive, they are not unscathed — especially his two older boys.
“They’re struggling,” he said. “We had tickets last night to the White Sox — their grandfather takes them — and my oldest son didn’t want to go. My younger son and my wife went with my father-in-law, and they said it was very tough — they were shooting off fireworks and that was jarring.”
His older son is having nightmares, Coteau adds, and hasn’t been sleeping. His younger son hasn’t wanted to leave the house.
“They just haven’t really wanted to do much except plug themselves into their iPads,” he explained. “Which is crazy, because they love doing activities here. I think it’s going to take some time for them.”
“This is their comfort place, so I hope that they love coming back here and that this one person doesn’t destroy everything,” he said.
Coteau says he and his wife are struggling, too.
“My wife, she always tries to be strong — she’s definitely the strongest one out of all of us,” he said. “I think it’s stressing her; it’s tensing her. She didn’t see what I saw — I saw the shooter and I saw the bullets. She reacted to it. I saw it.”
“I’ll be fine for a couple hours, and suddenly I’ll be sitting there thinking, ‘three feet to the left, and I don’t have a family.’ That’s how close it was,” Coteau says.
He says before the parade started, his youngest son wanted to sit in a spot where some people ended up being shot and killed. They didn’t, though, because his older son wanted to sit in the “family spot.”
“If we didn’t sit where we always sit, if that tree wasn’t there, those bullets would have been hitting us,” he added. “I’m just thankful none of us were physically hurt.”