Supporting the Creation of a Community Fund for Victims in the Wake of Tragedy

On July 4, 2022, a gunman turned a local Independence Day parade in the community of Highland Park, Illinois, into a horrific, life-altering event. His actions killed seven people, wounded 48 more, and traumatized the thousands of community members in attendance.

A tremendous outpouring of emotional and financial support for the victims followed. From lemonade stands to corporate giving, people across the community and country sought to support those injured in the shooting. In response, the Highland Park Community Foundation, with a legacy of supporting the needs of the city’s diverse community, formed the July 4th Highland Park Shooting Response Fund to accept and process donations, ensuring that money went to those most impacted.

Despite the generosity of donors in times of tragedy, as well as the increasing frequency of mass shootings in the United States, no clear authority has emerged to guide victim compensation funds on how they best function and distribute monies to meet victim needs, as well as comply with a myriad of legal requirements affecting these efforts. Led by partner and lifelong Highland Park resident Mark Gerstein, Latham stepped in to help.

To navigate this uncertainty, we worked with the Fund to establish Together Highland Park Unidos, a nine-member committee leading the Fund, to structure the distribution of donations to assist families of the victims who were killed, victims who were physically injured, and fund nonprofit organizations serving the mental health needs of victims and the community following the shooting.

“No amount of compensation can replace a human life, but we thank Latham & Watkins for helping us take steps as a community to come back together and move forward.”

Betsy Brint, Chair, Highland Park Community Foundation

In just 10 days, our Chicago-based team established the framework for the Committee’s organizational structure, including a governing body with plan administrators, protocols for claims, and a comment process for victims, their families, and the public, endeavoring to help the Fund achieve its goals of distributing all money received as quickly as possible and with complete transparency.

The Committee fostered inclusivity by convening meetings in English and Spanish with victims and their families, taking time to understand the physical and emotional trauma felt by so many. In addition, Latham associate Karen Frankenthal participated in these meetings to ensure that the firm’s legal advice comported with victim needs. Pro bono managing attorney Stephen Lessard also offered invaluable guidance.

“We were horrified by what happened in Highland Park,” said Mark Gerstein, who raised his family in the community and retired from the firm in December 2022. “I speak for the entire Latham team when I say how honored we were to be able to advise this Fund in fulfilling its mission.”

After assisting in structuring Together Highland Park Unidos, we advised the Highland Park Community Foundation on related issues, such as the legal considerations with respect to significant donor organizations’ contributions to the Fund. By fall 2022, the Fund had distributed approximately US$6 million — with victims and their families receiving approximately 90% of the donations, and the remaining 10% distributed to 17 nonprofit organizations providing mental health and community services.

“Donors across the country and around the globe showed their generosity and compassion at a time when the residents of Highland Park needed it most," said Betsy Brint, Chair of the Highland Park Community Foundation. “Creating the legal structure to quickly and transparently distribute the funds helped to maximize their impact to victims and their families and made a tangible difference in our community. No amount of compensation can replace a human life, but we thank Latham & Watkins for helping us take steps as a community to come back together and move forward. Their guidance throughout this process was truly a godsend.”

In September 2023, the Latham team was honored to receive the Jack Blane Community Service Award, which recognizes exceptional service to the Highland Park community.

Article updated on January 10, 2024