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In His Own Words — State Senator Who Witnessed Mall Shooting

Elgie Sims
Illinois Senate Democrats

An Illinois state senator is renewing a call for gun control legislation after personally witnessing a shooting this week.

Sen. Elgie Sims was at Orland Square Mall with his family when a man was shot and killed nearby.

A Democrat from Chicago, he talked about his experience with our Statehouse editor, Brian Mackey.


I'd like to ask you to — if you could take me back: Where were you when you first did hear those shots?

So we were we were in Justice — my wife, my daughters and I were in the store, and we were walking towards the front of the store where the register is when the shots rang out.

I heard the first shot and I — I kind of stopped and I said, 'That sounds like a gun shot.' I then heard the other shots in rapid succession. So yelled to my wife and kids the other people in the store to get down, get to the back, get behind the counter, take cover.

From there we got everybody down. And then I called 9-1-1, placed a call to them and let them know that there was an active shooter on scene and let them know where we were.

I then proceeded to leave from behind the counter, look around the store — because again, I didn't know if there was an active shooter or what the situation was. I made my way to the front of the store and got the doors to the Justice store closed and locked.

That's when I when I saw the victim lying on the ground.

He was right outside the store on the ground, probably 15, 20 feet from the front door. I then made my way back into the store (and) took cover again.

That's when I saw the police moving around and surveying the scene. Police told us: Everybody stay put. They were still searching the premises.

Probably 30-45 minutes later, the officer came back. He was pretty adamant that we need to exit the building because there was still an active shooter on scene.

The officer then escorted us out of the building, and it was a really chaotic scene.

It was an instance where I've never seen — nor do I ever want to see — the terror I saw in my children's faces and the faces of those other children and family members in that room. It was that it was a really very difficult time.

And your statement talked about that: the multiple layers of victims of an incident like this. It's not just the people who are obviously tragically wounded — the first order victims. But there are so many people who have that — I don't know if you want to call it a "loss of Innocence"? You felt that palpably?

It was palpable. You could you could see that. When you have a situation like this, it goes beyond just the shooter and the victim and their immediate families.

There are young people who experience that. There are people who experience that. And they're going to internalize that. So we tried to — I know I I told everybody to keep the kids back away from the window, because the body was right outside the doors of the store.

I did not want them to see that, because that is something I know I will not soon forget.

And then in your statement, you take a turn to policy. Does this change or amplify or solidify — how do you see this in relation to the policies that you think Illinois should be pursuing in terms of preventing this sort of violence?

This situation only reinforces for me that we've got to have an honest conversation about gun violence and treat gun violence as the public health crisis that it is.

We've got to get away from this fallacy that gun violence is perpetrated by this "boogeyman," this "gangbanger." It's not. Gun violence can happen anywhere, and I think the fact that this happened in Orland Park only serves to reinforce that these issues of gun violence — they don't just happen in poor communities. They can happen anywhere.

When you've got free access to Illegal guns, these types of things happen.

This interview was conducted on Tuesday, Jan. 22, and first broadcast on Thursday, Jan. 24. It has been edited and condensed.

Brian Mackey formerly reported on state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. Before that, he was A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
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