The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

First funerals held for Highland Park victims: ‘We should not have to be here’

A police officer hugs a guest outside of the funeral of Jacquelyn “Jacki” Sundheim at North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe, Ill., on July 8. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)
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GLENCOE, Ill. — Rabbi Wendi Geffen was clear. Jacquelyn “Jacki” Sundheim — a longtime preschool teacher and member of North Shore Congregation Israel — had been murdered. And there was no comfort in that.

“Our hearts are broken,” she said, her voice trembling. “We should not have to be here.”

The first funerals for the seven people killed when a gunman fired at a Fourth of July parade in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park got underway Friday, as community members tried to reconcile remembering happier times with feelings of anger and sadness over how they died.

North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe, overlooking Lake Michigan, was filled with close to 1,000 people for Sundheim’s funeral — one of three held Friday. Services also took place for Stephen Straus, 88, and Nicolás Toledo-Zaragoza, 78.

Authorities have charged Robert E. Crimo III, 21, with seven counts of first-degree murder and say he confessed to the massacre. Investigators believe he spent weeks planning the attack, which came as the nation is reeling from a spate of mass shootings and traumatized communities like Highland Park are figuring out how to regain a sense of safety.

At Sundheim’s funeral, a bevy of officers stood guard around the room.

Geffen told family and friends that the woman who was a constant presence inside the synagogue must not be defined by her death. She recalled how Sundheim worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make sure every detail was just right for all North Shore Congregation Israel life events — happy and sad.

The crowd laughed between tears as Geffen described how “no caterer would mess with her” and how “she had no sense of direction unless in a shopping mall.” Congregants grew accustomed to seeing her run up and down the aisles, preparing services and events, always with a smile, Geffen said. And though she gave great hugs, she was also nobody’s pushover.

In this community of 30,000, residents are only beginning to process what happened July 4 — and many just starting to recover. Dozens were injured, including an 8-year-old boy who was shot and remains hospitalized in critical condition, his spinal cord severed.

Elsewhere in the Chicago area, family members held a service for Toledo, described as a loving father of eight from Morelos, Mexico, who spent most of the past three decades in Highland Park after immigrating to the United States. His grandson, David Toledo, previously told The Washington Post that losing him was “just horrific.”

Family members also gathered to remember Straus, whose niece, Cynthia Straus, told The Post after the shooting that he had a “seize the day” outlook on life, working out, going to the symphony and cherishing his wife, two sons and their four grandchildren.

“He was devoted to his family,” she said. “And he never should have died this way.”

At Sundheim’s funeral, speakers recalled her close relationship with her sister and how they acted as second moms to each other’s children. They also recalled her strong ties to Judaism, even celebrating an adult bat mitzvah in 2010. And they spoke of her happy marriage to her husband, Bruce, who always said he knew their relationship would last.

Then Sundheim’s daughter, Leah, addressed those gathered. She stepped onto the bimah, the raised platform in synagogues from which services are led, and recalled that the last time she stood there, she was with her mom getting ready for services.

“I should not be standing here,” Leah said.

Instead, her mom should be nearby, “here in the corner, making sure the mics are working.”

She described the sadness that overwhelms her when she thinks about how her mother will not be present for her own big life events. But she urged the congregation to take their fear, sadness, rage and emptiness and “turn it into a drive to heal our community.”

“I want to laugh … to heal what is broken,” she said. “The world is darker without my mom in it.”