Zoe Kolpack was standing with her family Monday morning along the Highland Park parade route when she heard the first gunshot.
Then, a bullet shattered the 28-year-old woman’s femur.
As she fell to the ground, her father tried to shield her with his body. He was struck, too. Amid the chaos, her husband and her brother-in-law were also hit by bullets. Her two young children and mother were also nearby.
As people ran screaming around the family Monday morning during the Fourth of July parade, the Kolpacks’ children were rushed to safety by their grandmothers. Kolpack remained on the ground until an ambulance arrived.
The family’s harrowing story was recounted by family friend Samantha Whitehead, 28, in an interview with USA TODAY as she sat beside Zoe Kolpack in her hospital room . Whitehead, who lives in California, said she flew to Illinois immediately after learning that her close friend and her family were among the dozens of people injured in Monday’s deadly mass shooting.
“It was horrible,” Whitehead told USA TODAY. “Horrific.”
Whitehead is the organizer of a GoFundMe campaign which has raised over $250,000 for the family and their medical bills. A spokesperson for the Chicago Teacher’s Union declined to comment and directed media inquiries to Whitehead.
The children, ages 1 and 2, were uninjured, and as of Wednesday all four wounded family members were recovering after surgery.
Whitehead said Kolpack, a preschool teacher at William Dever Elementary School in Chicago, was excited to bring her young son and daughter to the parade — which she’d attended as a child — for the first time.
“She’s been so excited to start this tradition with her new family,” she said. “It’s something that they might never do again.”
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When the gunshots began, Kolpack initially thought it was part of the parade, Whitehead said. But as more shots were were fired, “she knew that there was something wrong.”
Kolpack and her father, Mike Joyce, were both shot in the leg.
“She just said it was the most painful experience she’s ever had in her life,” Whitehead said. “He was trying to protect her. … I think he’s a hero.”
Kolpack’s husband, Stephen, and brother-in-law Nick Joyce were also shot while the rest of the family hid in the boiler room of a nearby medical building with another group.
Officials from Chicago Public Schools told USA TODAY they have been in contact with Kolpack, who has been an employee since 2017.
“We are thinking of our William Dever Elementary colleague and her family, as well as all those impacted by this tragedy,” the district’s statement said.
Whitehead said she and Kolpack, who grew up in Highland Park, have been best friends since the sixth grade. She said she fondly remembers spending time together in downtown Highland Park and lighting bonfires in Kolpack’s backyard.
“Her family, they were like my family,” Whitehead said.
The shooting has left the family in shock. All four injured family members are doing well, but have a “long recovery ahead” including rehabilitation and physical therapy, said Whitehead.
“All the support is very necessary,” she said. “We feel grateful for them to just honestly be alive and for her babies to be safe and well.”
Contact Breaking News Reporter N’dea Yancey-Bragg at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @NdeaYanceyBragg