Mom of 3 Boys Recalls Horror of July 4 Mass Shooting and Tells PEOPLE, 'There Needs to Be Change'

"We threw ourselves over the kids," Natalie Lorentz, whose family survived the Highland Park shooting, tells PEOPLE in an interview ahead of Wednesday's march in D.C. to demand lawmakers do more for gun safety

Natalie Lorentz family Highland Park shooting survivors
Photo: Courtesy Natalie Lorentz

The Lorentz family had just finished breakfast at a pancake house in Highland Park, Ill., on July 4 when they decided to stay out and watch a parade the city put on for the holiday.

Natalie Lorentz, her husband Garrett, their three little boys – ages 5, 3, and 22 months — as well as Natalie's mother all sat down on the curb near the restaurant to take in the festivities.

Minutes into celebration, the piercing sound of rapid gunfire erupted, causing chaos, Natalie, 34, tells PEOPLE.

"I screamed, 'Get down, get down,'" she recalls in an interview. "So, we threw ourselves over the kids and laid down on the ground."

Bodies started dropping. Natalie says it appeared everyone surrounding the Lorentz's was struck by bullets, including Irina and Kevin McCarthy, the parents who died shielding their 2-year-old son, Aiden.

"Once the shots stopped that first round, we just got up and started running," Natalie recalls.

She and her husband took off with their three kids in their arms, but lost Natalie's mother in the pandemonium.

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"I was holding my kids, my son and just shielding him and keeping my head down and then checking my other kids' bodies just to make sure they hadn't been shot," she says. "I was shaking so badly. I didn't even know what to do."

"My oldest son was sobbing because he had dropped his stuffed animal and wanted to go back for it. And my middle son was also just crying. They didn't know what was happening," Natalie recalls of the terror. "They were saying, 'I'm scared. This is so scary.'"

The family, including her mother, escaped without serious injuries. But the mental and emotional toll of surviving a mass shooting — in which seven people died and dozens more were injured — has left them scarred, Natalie says.

Now, she's channeling her grief and trauma into action.

"I don't know how I can raise my kids somewhere where this continues to happen," Natalie says of the third high profile mass shooting in the U.S. in less than two months. "There needs to be change. And I think we want to start with a total ban on assault weapons."

On Wednesday, the Lorentz's and other families impacted by the mass shootings in Highland Park and Uvalde, Texas., will descend upon Capitol Hill to advocate for stronger gun control laws and to demand Congress keep semi-automatic rifles and "large capacity feeding devices" out of the hands of the public, according to a press release from the March Fourth demonstration.

Natalie says the march "is just the beginning" of her decision to take action after surviving the deadly massacre.

"It's truly a miracle that we got away," she says. "My husband and I are just in complete shock and panic, just playing over and over again what happened, and how we got away, and what if we didn't?"

Last week, police arrested 22-year-old Robert "Bobby" Crimo III, in connection with the Highland Park shooting.

Police allege Crimo sprayed more than 70 rounds of bullets from a high-powered rifle onto a crowd of hundreds of unsuspecting parade-goers.

Crimo faces seven charges of first-degree murder.

If found guilty, he could be sentenced to life in prison.

Click here for more information on the March Fourth rally on July 13.

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