Suspect planned Highland Park July 4 shooting for weeks: official

Officials say the suspected shooter planned for weeks, wore women’s clothes as disguise and bought rifles legally.

Residents of Highland Park, Illinois stare at a scene from the July 4 mass shooting. Law enforcement officials said Tuesday the attack had been planned weeks in advance [Charles Rex Arbogast/AP Photo]

Illinois Law enforcement have said that a mass shooting that took place in a community near Chicago, Illinois during US Independence Day celebrations was “pre-planned”, the suspected attacker bought the rifle used in the shooting “legally” and dressed in women’s clothing to evade detection.

The sole suspect in the attack, 21-year-old Robert Crimo, allegedly fired into a crowd of parade-goers in Highland Park on July 4, killing seven and injuring at least 30 people. The community is about 40km (25 miles) north of central Chicago.

Crimo “pre-planned this attack for several weeks. He brought a high-powered rifle to this parade. He accessed the roof of a business via a fire escape ladder and began opening fire on the innocent Independence Day celebration goers,” Chris Covelli, a spokesman for the Lake County Major Crime Task Force, said at a news conference Tuesday.

“During the attack Crime was dressed in women’s clothing,” which investigators believe were to conceal his facial tattoos and aid in his escape, Covelli said.

“We believe that Crimo fired more than 70 rounds from this rifle into the crowd of innocent people,” Covelli said. In April 2019 the police were contacted a week after a suicide attempt by Crimo. Several months later in September 2019, family members called the police after Crimo threatened to kill family members. 16 knives, a dagger, and a sword were confiscated from Crimo, but Crimo was able to legally purchase numerous firearms after the incident, according to Covelli.

Law enforcement officials do not believe anyone else was involved in the shooting, and said that Crimo exited the scene by blending into the fleeing crowd. The suspect is in custody but has not yet been charged with a crime, and Covelli noted that a motive for the attack has not yet been established.

The victims include Nicolas Toledo, 78, Jacki Sundheim, 63, Stephen Straus, 88, Kevin McCarthy, 37, Irena McCarthy, 35, and Catherine Goldstein, 64. The seventh victim has yet to be identified.

Covelli said it is not clear what may have motivated Crimo, but praised the community for its vigilance. He also stated that Crimo bought several firearms in addition to the rifle used in the shooting, all of them legally. The victims’ ages ranged from eight to 85.

Local officials were expected to offer more information on Tuesday afternoon.

The White House announced Tuesday that flags will be flown at half-staff to mourn the victims of the “senseless act of gun violence”. Vice President Kamala Harris will speak about the shooting during a visit to Chicago.

A number of vigils will be held throughout the community, including several at local places of worship, Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering said at Tuesday’s news conference.

Rotering said she knew of Crimo when he “was just a little boy” in the Boy Scouts she told NBC News.

“I know him as somebody who was a Cub Scout when I was the Cub Scout leader,” Rotering said. “And it’s one of those things where you step back and you say, ‘What happened?’ How did somebody become this angry, this hateful to then take it out on innocent people who, literally, were just having a family day out?”

INTERACTIVE The 10 deadliest mass shootings in the US infographic map
(Al Jazeera)

The North Shore Congregation Israel, a local Jewish synagogue, said in a statement that the shooting “touches each of us deeply and personally; the grief, pain, and fear affect us all.” Jacki Sundheim, a staff member at NSCI, was among those killed in Monday’s shooting.

Gabrielle Giffords, a former Democratic lawmaker from Arizona who became an outspoken advocate of gun regulation after she was shot in the head in during a 2011 assassination attempt in Arizona, said on Monday that her “heart is with the victims of this shooting, their loved ones, and everyone who spent this holiday fleeing in terror”.

This latest shooting came weeks after an attack at a school in Uvalde, Texas left 21 dead, including 19 children and a May 14 mass shooting in Buffalo, New York that killed 10. The Highland Park attack has already reignited fierce debate in the US about how to address the scourge of mass shootings.

Such events take place in the US at exceptionally high rates, and critics point to the country’s substantial rates of gun ownership and access to deadly rifles that can rapidly fire multiple rounds as the ultimate source of the problem.

But attempts to promote more vigorous gun control measures have run into stiff opposition from Republican lawmakers.

Legislation signed into law by President Joe Biden was hailed as the first substantive step towards reforming US gun laws in decades.

INTERACTIVE The number of mass shootings in the US infographic
(Al Jazeera)

The law expanded background checks, limited the ability of domestic abusers to buy firearms, and provides aid to 19 states with “red flag laws” that allow guns to be confiscated from those displaying disturbing behaviour. Critics have said the law falls far short of what is needed to address gun violence.

Democratic Governor of Illinois JB Pritzker said in a statement on Monday that “grief will not bring the victims back, and prayers alone will not put a stop to the terror of rampant gun violence in our country”.

“We must — and we will — end this plague of gun violence.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies