FBI agent provides rare look at law enforcement response to deadly Highland Park parade shooting

ByChuck Goudie and Barb Markoff and Christine Tressel WLS logo
Tuesday, June 27, 2023
Rare look at FBI's response to Highland Park parade shooting
Dennaris Coleman offered a rare look into the FBI's reponse to the deadly Highland Park shooting.

HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. (WLS) -- When word went out of an active shooter in Highland Park on July 4, 2022, the emergency triggered a massive response among law enforcement agencies.

What followed was a convergence of hundreds of local, state and federal officers on the North Shore suburb, with the FBI playing obvious and not-so-obvious roles.

Dennaris Coleman, the assistant special agent in charge of violent crimes for the Chicago FBI, was one of those first on-the-scene emergency response commanders.

"It is up there with some of the worst things that I've seen happen, absolutely," said Coleman.

SEE ALSO | Highland Park Hospital employees recount emergency response one year after July 4th parade shooting

Coleman, a suburban Joliet native, said the initial chaos was replaced with a response many first responders have practiced for.

"First thing we do is we engage with the locals. They are the first responders, and we, per se, are the second responders. We don't wait until the incident happens to try and figure out who is in charge. We have ongoing relationships with our counterparts, both state, local and federal, so that when we do show up, we don't have that power grab of who's going to do what," Coleman explained. "We have teams that are on standby 24/7, of all our specialty teams. So, you may have an agent who lives five blocks away from where the incident happened."

For hours, the shooter remained at-large as a massive manhunt ensued, and, he said, did change the initial posture of the FBI when agent arrived on the scene.

"In this case, the threat was still out there. So, that was our primary response was, how to stop the killing and how to get this individual in custody to ensure the safety of the public. Second responsibility, that being preserving that scene evidence collection," Coleman said.

READ MORE | Highland Park shooting survivor recounts being shot amid push for increased gun safety legislation

Coleman revealed to the ABC7 I-Team that the local FBI agents had just trained for an active shooter attack.

"We just had a field training exercise, literally, a month or so before this incident," Coleman said.

And, he explained how the FBI typically doesn't take the initial lead in a case, unless there is a clear federal crime.

"And, a lot of times, those determinations aren't made in the initial phase. the prosecutors start talking about whether they're federal or local to determine based off the evidence we've collected, what we know, which avenue is the best avenue to go with," Coleman said.

The bureau does more than chase down criminals. In the Highland Park aftermath, the FBI mobilized its family assistance center for victims at a local high school. That effort helped provide counseling, financial assistance and other forms of support.

SEE ALSO | Couple spotted alleged Highland Park shooter's car, alerted police with help of ABC7 Facebook page

"They help reunite family members who were separated during the incident. They reunite individuals, with their property that was left behind in a scene," Coleman said.

One year later, the FBI Chicago assistant agent in charge of violent crimes said, for federal law enforcement, he thinks it was a good response in a bad situation.

"Our team definitely deployed in a timely manner. We were able to capture the subject. Whether it's the specialty teams having an after action, or we call in our word Hot Wash, right after the incident, and we talk about how it went, what we did well what we can improve upon, that only makes us better," Coleman said.