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Priest led crowd to shelter at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church after Highland Park parade massacre

Priest, parishioners, and strangers hide from shooter in church
Priest, parishioners, and strangers hide from shooter in church 02:54

HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. (CBS) -- Church is often called a sanctuary – in the sense of a place of worship.

But for paradegoers the day of the July 4th massacre in Highland Park, one Roman Catholic church was a shelter from the chaos.

CBS 2's Jermont Terry talked with a local priest who ushered dozens of people into his house. When people ran from the parade route, Immaculate Conception Catholic Church at 770 Deerfield Rd. was where so many hid – including two young children who were covered in blood after they witnessed their father get shot.

A priest spends a good amount of time in the church. Yet Father Hernan Cuevas will never forget a four-hour stretch on July 4.

An emergency vehicle happened to be going by and sounding its siren when Cuevas talked with Terry in the church. It evoked some menacingly familiar memories two days earlier.

"We hear together like what we hear right now – but it was constant," Cuevas said.

The morning of the Highland Park parade, the United Parish of Immaculate Conception and St. James was proudly ready to display its float. They were a block from the parade route when video recorded by Father Cuevas captured the mayhem.

He caught the sounds of the first shots.

"I turned toward my parishioners and I started just telling them: 'Run! Run! Run!'" Cuevas said.

"Run" was the only command – and the flock flooded the church for refuge.

"And then they were coming – I would say around 50," Cuevas said.

Fifty strangers hunkered down for nearly four hours. Cuevas said he and the others were "absolutely" concerned the shooter could come inside the church.

Father Cuevas pulled out the Holy Rosary, and prayed the Hail Mary.

Terry: "Here you are, asking for prayers for the sinners, and you don't even know if you're truly safe."

Cuevas: "I knew that our lives were in God's hands."

Locked behind the stained glass in God's house, two children stood out.

"Their shirts had some blood, on their shirts, because their dad was shot," Cuevas said.

The kids followed the strangers into the sanctuary.

"The first thing was taking care of the blood that was on their shirts, and kind of taking away the kind of trauma of whatever was going on with them," Cuevas said. "You could tell by looking at their eyes, they were like lost."

Yet the children put total trust in Father Cuevas as he prayed.

After three hours of waiting for an all-clear, a woman frantically arrived.

"We knew that she was the mom of the kids that we were here with, and we just hugged each other, and we just were crying," Cuevas said.

And he continues to pray the rosary.

"We hope and pray we don't have to go through this again," Cuevas said.

This coming Sunday, Cuevas will preach from the Gospel about the Good Samaritan who stepped in – a very fitting word when you think of all the Good Samaritans who stepped in on Monday, and continue to step up in Highland Park.

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