July 4 gunman contemplated another attack, officials say

Robert Crimo is charged with seven counts of first-degree murder and could face life in prison for a mass shooting on July 4.

Mourners at a memorial for the victims of a July 4 mass shooting in Illinois, where the Highland Park suspected attacker appeared before a judge Wednesday [Charles Rex Arbogast/AP Photo]

The man accused of the Independence Day mass shooting that killed at least seven people in a community outside of Chicago, Illinois, has been denied bail.

Robert Crimo, 21, appeared before a judge via video link from jail on Wednesday for a bond hearing. He has been charged with seven counts of first-degree murder which, if convicted, could put him in prison for life without parole.

“These are just the first of many charges that will be filed against Mr Crimo,” Lake County Assistant State’s Attorney Ben Dillon said at a Wednesday press briefing. “We anticipate dozens of more charges centred around each of the victims.”

Dillon said that Crimo had admitted to conducting the attack after he was apprehended by law enforcement on Monday.

Dillon said Crimo had been read his rights, and was offered a lawyer at the time.

Following Monday’s shooting, during which Crimo allegedly sprayed about 70 rounds into a crowd of Independence Day parade-goers, Crimo fled dressed in women’s clothing and makeup to conceal facial tattoos and to blend in with the crowd. He then drove out of town in his mother’s car. During that drive, Crimo is now said to have “seriously contemplated” carrying out another shooting when he came across a July 4 celebration in Madison, Wisconsin, Dillon said.

He may have been dissuaded from doing so because he had not adequately prepared, Lake County Major Crime Task Force spokesman Christopher Covelli said at a news conference on Wednesday. Crimo’s alleged shooting in Highland Park was the result of weeks of planning, according to law enforcement officials.

Officials have said that Crimo’s potential motives are not yet clear.

Among the dead are Stephen Straus, an 88-year-old grandfather; Nicolas Toledo-Zaragoza, 78 who was visiting family from Mexico; Katherine Goldstein, 64, mother of two daughters; Jacki Sundheim, 63, a teacher at a nearby synagogue, and Irina and Kevin McCarthy, a couple whose two-year-old child, Aiden, survived and is now an orphan.

In the aftermath of the shooting, details have emerged about Crimo’s purchase of firearms that have led to renewed frustration and debate around the nation’s gun laws. Crimo was able to legally buy five firearms, including the high-powered rifle he used to allegedly fire dozens of rounds into a crowd of parade-goers, despite a history of attempts to harm himself and violent threats against family members.

In September 2019, police confiscated more than a dozen knives and daggers from Crimo after his family called the police saying that Crimo had threatened to “kill everyone”. Despite this history, Crimo was able to legally buy four firearms in 2020 and another in 2021, even in Illinois, which has some of the US’s strictest gun regulations.

While a federal gun reform bill was recently passed with some changes hailed by activists, the Supreme Court also ruled in a recent case to sweep aside certain restrictions on carrying a weapon in public.

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Asked why a state “red flag” law, in place to help prevent people with potentially violent tendencies from obtaining guns, had not been invoked, Covelli said that he did not want to speculate about the protocols of the Illinois state police.

The shooting took place in the morning hours of July 4, the day the United States celebrates Independence Day, as residents of the small town outside of Chicago were attending a parade.

The attacker, positioned on a roof, used a high-powered rifle to fire into the crowd of spectators, causing terror and confusion among parade-goers, some of who initially confused the gunshots for fireworks.

Members of the community have struggled to cope with the trauma that came to their city on a day that was supposed to be one of celebration. The city’s Mayor Nancy Rotering said in a television interview that the city was in mourning. “Today, it is a day of just sheer sadness. Wherever I go, we’re hugging, we’re crying. And people are in so much pain right now.”

Elected officials have released statements expressing condolences and calling for action on gun control. The Democratic Governor of Illinois JB Pritzker said Monday that “our state grieves with you” and called on elected officials to “end this plague of gun violence”.

Vice President Kamala Harris visited Highland Park during a trip to nearby Chicago on Tuesday and gave remarks, saying, “This should never have happened. We talk about it being senseless; it is senseless. It is absolutely senseless.”

Harris also noted, “We’ve got to be smarter as a country in terms of who has access to what and, in particular, assault weapons.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies