Highland Park shooting: Suspect charged with 7 counts of murder

Officials say the suspect planned the mass shooting for weeks and had used a legally obtained weapon in the attack.

Brooke and Matt Strauss, who were married Sunday, hug while look towards the scene of the mass shooting in downtown Highland Park, Illinois.
Officials say the suspect fired more than 70 rounds at random into the crowd watching Monday's parade in Highland Park, Illinois [Charles Rex Arbogast/ AP]

The man accused of opening fire on a Fourth of July parade near the city of Chicago in the United States has been charged with seven counts of murder.

Illinois State Attorney Eric Rinehart said on Tuesday that the suspected gunman, Robert E Crimo III, faces a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole if he is convicted.

Reinhart said the first-degree murder charges would be followed by “dozens of more charges” and that he would ask that Crimo remain held in custody without bail at the suspect’s first court appearance, scheduled for Wednesday.

The young man is accused of shooting his victims from a sniper’s perch on a rooftop above the parade in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park, Illinois.

Officials said he had planned the attack for weeks.

They said he fired more than 70 rounds at random into the crowd watching Monday’s parade and that he was dressed in women’s clothes to help conceal his identity and blend in with the panic-stricken crowd as he fled.

“He blended right in with everybody else as they were running around, almost as if he was an innocent spectator as well,” said Sergeant Chris Covelli, a spokesperson for the Lake County Sheriff’s office, adding that the suspect has distinctive facial tattoos.

In addition to the seven victims killed by gunfire, more than three dozen people were treated in hospitals for gunshot wounds and other injuries.

Missed signals

Covelli said Crimo had two previous encounters with law enforcement – an April 2019 emergency-911 call reporting that he had attempted suicide and another in September of that year regarding alleged threats “to kill everyone” that he had directed at family members.

Police responding to the second incident seized a collection of 16 knives, a dagger and a sword amassed by Crimo in his home, though no arrest was made as authorities at the time lacked probable cause to take him into custody.

“There were no complaints that were signed by any of the victims,” Covelli said.

Still, the suspect went on to apply for a gun license in December of the same year, when he 19. His father sponsored his application, and state police said in a statement that “there was insufficient basis to establish a clear and present danger” and deny the application at the time.

Covelli said Crimo legally purchased the rifle used in the attack in Illinois within the past year. The weapon, which he dropped at the scene, was a high-powered rifle, similar to an AR-15. In all, police said Crimo purchased five firearms, which were recovered by officers at his father’s home.

Investigators who have interrogated the suspect and reviewed his social media posts have not determined a motive or found any indication that he targeted victims by race, religion or other protected status, Covelli said.

Crimo’s attorney, Thomas A Durkin, a prominent Chicago-based lawyer, said he intends to enter a not guilty plea to all charges.

Asked about his client’s emotional state, Durkin said he has spoken to Crimo only once – for 10 minutes by phone.

He declined to comment further.

A sign that reads 'Thoughts and prayers are not enough' on the ground with flowers around it at a vigil in Highland Park, Illinois.
A vigil is held near the scene of a mass shooting at a Fourth of July parade, on July 5, 2022, in Highland Park, Illinois [Jim Vondruska/Getty Images/AFP]

‘Still reeling

Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering said the community of 30,000 was in shock.

“This tragedy should have never arrived at our doorsteps,” she told NBC News. “As a small town, everybody knows somebody who was affected by this directly and, of course, we are all still reeling.”

Among those killed in Monday’s attack were Nicholas Toledo, a grandfather from Mexico in his 70s celebrating with his family among the flag-waving crowds, and Jacki Sundheim, a teacher at a nearby synagogue.

President Joe Biden ordered US flags to be flown at half-staff in mourning until sunset on Saturday.

A recent string of deadly mass shootings, including an attack in which 19 school children and two teachers were killed in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, just 10 days after 10 people were slain in a supermarket in a predominately Black neighbourhood in Buffalo, New York, has renewed debate about gun safety in the US.

The US Supreme Court last month asserted a constitutional right to carry weapons in public in a ruling that made it easier for pro-gun groups to overturn modern gun regulations. It has since thrown out a lower court ruling upholding Maryland’s ban on assault weapons.

Congress last month passed its first major federal gun reform in three decades, providing federal funding to states that administer “red flag” laws. The law does not ban sales of assault-style rifles or high-capacity magazines but does take some steps on background checks by allowing access to information on significant crimes committed by juveniles.

Vice President Kamala Harris, who visited Highland Park on Tuesday, said the latest mass shooting demonstrated the need for restrictions on assault weapons.

“This person will be brought to justice. But it’s not going to undo what happened,” she said in a meeting with city leaders. “We’ve got to be smarter as a country about who has access to what, in particular assault weapons.”

She added, “This should never have happened. We talk about it being senseless. It is senseless. It is absolutely senseless.”

Rotering, the mayor of Highland Park, said she knew the suspect when he was a little boy and a Cub Scout, and she was a Cub Scout leader.

“What happened? How did somebody become this angry, this hateful?” she said. “Our nation needs to have a conversation about these weekly events involving the murder of dozens of people with legally obtained guns.”

The suspect’s father, Bob Crimo, ran Bob’s Pantry and Deli in Highland Park for at least 18 years, according to a Chicago Tribune business profile. Bob Crimo closed the deli in 2019 before he unsuccessfully ran against Rotering for mayor.

Online social media posts written by the suspect or under his rapper alias, “Awake The Rapper,” often depicted violent images or messages.

One music video posted to YouTube under Awake The Rapper showed drawings of a stick figure holding a rifle in front of another figure spread on the ground.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies