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Funerals begin for Highland Park shooting victims: ‘We are … inconsolable’

July 8, 2022 Updated Fri., July 8, 2022 at 8:56 p.m.

Residents deliver flowers and leave chalk messages at a memorial depicting the seven people killed after a mass shooting at the Fourth of July parade in Highland Park.  (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune)
Residents deliver flowers and leave chalk messages at a memorial depicting the seven people killed after a mass shooting at the Fourth of July parade in Highland Park. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune)
By Jake Sheridan, Zareen Syed, Robert McCoppin and Tracy Swartz Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO – Those grieving for the Highland Park shooting victims began the heavy task Friday of burying their loved ones.

The first funerals for the victims were set for Friday. Among those who will be memorialized Friday are Jacquelyn “Jacki” Sundheim, 63, and Steve Straus, 88, both of Highland Park. A visitation is also planned for Nicolas Toledo-Zaragoza, 78, who was visiting family from Morelos, Mexico.

They are among seven people who were shot and killed when a gunman opened fire from a rooftop at the Highland Park Fourth of July parade Monday. Also killed were Katherine Goldstein, 64, of Highland Park; Irina McCarthy, 35, and her husband Kevin McCarthy, 37, who also lived in Highland Park and left behind a 2-year-old son; and Eduardo Uvaldo, 69, of Waukegan.

Hundreds of mourners have gathered at North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe late Friday morning to honor Sundheim, who not only worked there for decades but was a lifelong member. Among those paying their respects are Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider. The congressman was preparing to march in the parade Monday when the gunfire began.

Speaking through tears, Rabbi Wendi Geffen opened Sundheim’s service by saying: “We invite you to just be with us. We should not have to be here today. There is nothing, not one single thing that makes being brought together to mourn Jacki acceptable. We are horrified. We are enraged … aggrieved, inconsolable for the terror that has befallen us and robbed us of Jacki.”

“Jacki died because she was murdered, and in that there is no comfort for us to take away as we mourn Jacki’s death. There is no silver lining, no light over the darkness,” Geffen said.

Sundheim taught preschool at North Shore Congregation Israel and, as coordinator of events such as bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings and funerals, touched many lives in the community.

“There was not one inch of this space that Jacki did not touch,” Geffen.

She spoke of the volumes of pain and despair Sundheim’s loved ones are feeling, and the risk of “coming to see Jacki’s life only by its end. … We cannot allow that to happen,”

Cantor David Goldstein, while singing the 23rd Psalm in Hebrew before congregants, took off his glasses to wipe his eyes as his voice filled the large, modern, sunlit sanctuary. He returned to his white seat and cried.

Later, Rabbi Lisa Greene recount Sundheim’s journey as a congregant, from early childhood to her teen years leading youth groups to eventually joining the staff.

Sundheim’s survivors include her husband, Bruce, and their daughter Leah.

Sundheim’s daughter Leah spoke, saying she “cannot process” that her mother won’t be present “when I have my baby or meet the love of my life, and that fills me with a rage and emptiness that scares me.”

Addressing the assembled mourners, she said: “I want each of you to take that fear, that sadness and that rage and I need it to let it fuel you. …. Let it remind you to find joy in little things and treasure the big things. I want you to use this horrible, overwhelming hurt and turn it into a drive to help heal our world and our community.”

She added: “Do not let this sadness, this fear, rage turn you indifferent or bitter toward our world, because the world is darker without my mom in it – and it’s up to us now to fill it with a little extra laughter and help replace her light and love.”

Just as that service was ending, another was getting under way for Straus at a different synagogue a few miles south in Evanston. It followed a private burial, where the opening theme from “2001: A Space Odyssey” was played as his casket lowered into the ground.

“We are here this morning with brokenness. We are here this morning in shock and disbelief and despair and grief,” Rabbi Rachel Weiss said at the start of the service at Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation. “We are here in a painful incredulity that this is the world we are living in.”

Straus’ family had described him earlier as a lover of culture – from the Art Institute of Chicago to “The 2000 Year Old Man” comedy sketch – with a curious mind who still commuted five days a week to his stockbroker office downtown.

“This was not the way that we thought Steve would or should ever be on the cover of The New York Times. It would be more like Steve to be in the book review section because he read them all,” Weiss said during the funeral. “But now he joins a very difficult group, as do we all, whom death through trauma and terror and hatred has touched.

“We tell his story. Steve was a good guy. We will never be the same, but we will carry him with us,” she continued.

A native of Chicago’s South Side, Straus was “very much a Highland Parker” and went to the parade each year, one of his sons told the Tribune.

Straus, said his son Peter Straus, was “curious about the world.”

Straus’ survivors include wife Linda and another son, Jonathan. Straus’ brother Larry Straus spoke at the service, saying utmost among his sibling’s qualities was loyalty.

He told a story about how and his brother went to different high schools and their respective basketball teams ended up playing each other.

“When I would score a basket, my brother would scream, ‘Atta boy, Larry!’ … I’ve never forgotten. It’s been with me my whole life, that loyalty,” he said.

Jonathan Straus also spoke at the service saying: “Just thinking about what a good, giving, loving person he was, it just makes the cruelty and the horror of his death just that much harder to take. And I’ve been pretty good at keeping it together over the last few days, but when I see pictures of him, it’s just like he’s right there. Then it just really sweeps over me just what we’ve lost, who I lost, my best friend.”

Amid the heartbreak, there were also moment of levity.

Peter Straus closed his remarks by saying he’d “like to share with you a secret about my dad that I was reminded of by an old friend who extended his condolences recently. My dad, who worked in the Loop for (at least) six decades … made a point of pressing his nose – the side of his nose – against the glass of every revolving door he encountered, leaving a naughty nasal signature. What today’s kids might call tagging that marked once again and forevermore that Steve Straus was here.”

Steve’s granddaughter, Maisy, sang “Run to Me” by the Bee Gees as her father, Peter, played the guitar next to her.

Steve’s grandson, Toby, read “In Flanders Fields,” by John McCrae, which Toby found in a World War I poem book in his grandfather’s study.

“My grandfather was a very gentle and peaceful guy,” Toby said, “but he really was killed in a war.”

Toledo-Zaragoza’s family has said he’d planned to spend three months in the Chicago visiting family, something that had been delayed because of COVID-19.

As the father of eight, his family said, he had a large number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and he was surrounded by relatives at the parade when he died.

“Today Nicolas is our guardian angel,” his granddaughter Xochil Toledo wrote about Nicolas Toledo. “We ask you (to) please keep our family and all the families of this horrible tragedy in your prayers and stay strong as a community.”

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