HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Days after barely escaping the Highland Park mass shooting with their children, a Houston family is sharing their survival story.
Valerie Dieterich grew up in Highland Park, Illinois. Her parents still live there. On this 4th of July, she was excited to bring her husband Tracy and their two daughters to enjoy the town's celebrations.
"I'm so excited for my children to have this cute 4th of July and this parade, and go watch fireworks at night," Valerie recalled from her home in Houston. "And all of that was stolen from us. And people's lives were stolen, and people were permanently injured. They were destroyed."
In videos and photos shared with ABC13, the couple, their children, and the children's grandfather were seated along the sidewalk, half a block from where the alleged shooter, Robert Crimo III, opened fire from a rooftop.
"They were loud, really loud," Tracy said. "It sounded like a machine gun, but I think even if I was inside a mall, you would think, 'Is that fireworks?' So there was a disconnect of what I'm hearing and what I'm seeing.'"
In the panic, the couple got separated. Tracy had grabbed their 2-year-old daughter, Reagan, while Valerie ducked into a store with their 5-year-old, Madison.
"Everyone left their stuff there and we ran for our lives," Tracy said. "I called Valerie, 'Where are you?' and she came out of the store."
"We were really shook up. Sick to our stomachs," Valerie said.
The Dieterichs, their children, and grandparents spent the 4th of July inside the grandparents' home in Highland Park, wary that the shooter had not yet been caught at the time.
In the days that followed, they grappled with what to tell their children when the questions came.
"Madison looks at me and says, 'Mommy, why are we running?' and I say, 'There's a bad man.' And I said, 'That was a gun," Valerie said. "I thought, 'Should I not tell her?' And I thought, 'No, that's the reality of the situation. Be honest and don't hide it from your children.'"
Like so many Americans who face gun violence, they are still struggling with how to move forward.
"I wake up thinking about it. Go to bed thinking about it. We try to just go home and lay low, and hug our kids super tight," Tracy said. "These are small-town America. It's happening in churches and schools. If we're not safe there, I don't know where we are."
The Dieterichs say they will go to more parades, and will not live in fear. In addition, they would love to be part of the solution to ending mass shootings and gun violence. Though, right now, they are uncertain what those steps may be.