GALESBURG — A mother stood in Sunday afternoon’s surprising heat and watched her daughter ride the Orbiter.
Less than 15 hours after shots fired into the air left many patrons at the Railroad Days Carnival running and screaming, there was little evidence of the gun incident — or the fights that broke just before and after someone discharged a handgun at least twice at around 9:30 p.m. Saturday.
The mother said she would “never” bring her daughter to a Railroad Days event “after dark.”
“I heard there was a shooting Thursday, a stabbing Friday night and then that shooting Saturday,” the woman said while her daughter whirled and squealed.
“There just aren’t many safe places left for kids anymore.”
In Galesburg, rumors about this weekend’s annual railroad festival flew faster than any bullets.
The Galesburg Police Department confirmed Sunday a gun was brandished during an altercation Thursday night. There was no stabbing Friday night during Railroad Days.
Saturday night’s discharge of what witnesses said was a handgun made the kind of impression on carnival-goers that quickly swept through social media.
Many told the story of panicked patrons, frightened and bewildered children, parents desperately trying to find children, and strangers trying to shield other people’s kids from bullets.
“My 9-year-old had just come out of the magic house five minutes prior to the fight,” Rondo Marie said. “We heard the shots. Both my boys panicked as we hurried to get away.”
Katherine Hope Fuller offered a description of the horror and its aftermath.
“We were 10 to 15 feet from it all. My fiancé, mother-in-law, son, stepdaughter and mom and her sister and her grandma were right by the fun maze,” Fuller said. “We were getting ready to leave. All (of a) sudden this group of kids started acting sketchy. I took my 4-year-old right behind the maze when fighting broke out. My stepdaughter’s aunt got thrown against the maze caught in the fight.”
Fuller said what came next created sheer panic.
“Next thing you know two gunshots went off. I had my 4-year-old in my arms and his sister and her mom went running to the cars that were right there across from the church,” Fuller said. “I looked back and everyone else of our group took off in the cars. The guy that had the gun ran right past me and my son, tucking the gun in the front of his pants.
“Next thing you know we are blocked by cop cars and kids and parents were running everywhere screaming and crying. My son last night started hysterically crying thinking his sister got shot because she was in her mom’s car. He fell asleep on the way home but woke up when we got home and started bawling, saying he was scared of the bad guys and their guns. He woke up this morning crying again, saying he was scared of everything. We didn’t fall asleep until 2 a.m. I was so sick to my stomach all night. Didn’t eat anything.”
Katelin Nelson said her young daughter was traumatized.
“It was terrifying. My daughter is 5, and is still scared to death and said she never wants to go to a fair again,” Nelson said. “We had to run for our lives, also taking in two 13-year-olds that couldn’t find their parents. Very, very scary.”
Like Nelson, a number of carnival-goers said they tried to shield children during the shooting or tried to comfort children until their parents located them.
Brittany Allen said her children were traumatized — but noted a Wilson Family carnival worker helped in an unexpected way.
“What a scary situation. I had two kids on the teacup ride. My son started puking on the ride, so I stood up to tell them to stop it. The attendant stopped it and ran to our cart to bring it to a complete stop,” Allen explained. “As he was holding our cart trying to stop it and get us out, the shots were fired. Everyone started screaming and running. It was close, but I don’t think anyone knew exactly where they were shot from or aimed toward.
“I told both the kids to get down in the cart as the attendant was still trying to get us off. Thank God for him. He could have run like everyone else, but even with the panic and screaming he made sure he got us off the ride. I am so thankful for him, a complete stranger helping us when everyone else was running and screaming.”
Allen and her children ran to the parking lot of the Broadview Inn on the Public Square.
“By time we got to a safe place, both kids were crying, one covered in puke, and the other just kept telling me he doesn’t want to die. If that’s what this town has come to, then maybe they should do away with Railroad Days altogether. Needless to say, I don’t think any of us slept well last night.”
Cora Moore told a harrowing account of fleeing the shots. And she laid to rest the social media rumor that told of a pregnant woman who was shot — or run over by a speeding car — during the melee that followed the shots fired.
“It didn’t register in my head that those were gunshots until the second and third shot. And after that I was just worried about getting my 12-year-old brother to safety and away from everything. Nothing else,” said Moore, who is 19 weeks and four days pregnant. “We have always been raised to look out for each other and right then he was my No. 1 priority. Once we got into Fat Fish Pub, that is when I saw that my mom, my fiancé and my mom’s boyfriend wasn’t behind us.”
Moore then experienced a reaction to the chaos and fear.
“My mom came in and that is when I started having excruciating pain. My mom went and found my fiancé and I had to go by ambulance to OSF because we were scared that I was loosing my baby girl,” Moore explained. “I had pulled a few muscles trying to keep up with my brother, but I was more worried about my family’s safety than my own.”