Highland Park shooting suspect contemplated attack in Madison, authorities say

The man charged with killing seven people at an Independence Day parade confessed to police that he unleashed a hail of bullets from a rooftop in Highland Park, Illinois, and then fled to the Madison, Wisconsin, area, where he contemplated shooting up an event there, authorities said Wednesday.

The gunman turned back to Illinois, where he was later arrested, after deciding he "hadn't put enough thought and research" into committing a shooting in Wisconsin, Lake County Major Crime Task Force spokesman Christopher Covelli said Wednesday at a news conference following a bond hearing.

"It appears when he drove to Madison, he was driving around; however, he did see a celebration that was occurring in Madison and he seriously contemplated using the firearm he had in his vehicle to commit another shooting" in Madison, Covelli said.

Covelli did not specify whether the celebration was a private gathering or a public event. He said the man had about 60 rounds with him at that point.

A phone he got rid of in Middleton has been found, Covelli said.

Police found Crimo's phone at Jim's Auto Service Center in Middleton

WISC-TV News 3 in Madison and other news outlets reported authorities found the phone at Jim’s Auto Service Center in Middleton. The business owner could not be immediately reached for an interview.

Middleton Mayor Gurdip Brar said the news was "a little unnerving" but that he had full confidence in the local police department and the FBI's investigation.

He said there was no information about whether the gunman had connections to the area but noted that Middleton is right off of the Beltline Highway.

Investigators do not have information suggesting that the shooter planned to drive to Madison to commit another shooting after fleeing Highland Park, Covelli said.

For hours before his arrest, police warned that the gunman was still at large and that he should be considered armed and dangerous. While several cities near Highland Park canceled events, including parades and fireworks, most festivities in and around Wisconsin’s capital city went ahead.

More: Some Highland Park residents thought their town was immune from gun violence. Then a mass shooting rattled the quiet community.

An Illinois judge ordered Robert E. Crimo III, 21, to be held without bail Wednesday.

Police found the shells of 83 bullets and three ammunition magazines on the rooftop that he fired from, Lake County Assistant State’s Attorney Ben Dillon said in court.

More than two dozen were wounded in the shooting. Some of the wounded remain in critical condition, Covelli said, and the death toll could still rise.

Already, the deaths from the shooting have left a 2-year-old boy without parents, families mourning the loss of beloved grandparents and a synagogue grieving the death of a congregant who for decades had also worked on the staff.

More: Highland Park parade shooting brings back painful memories in Waukesha of Christmas parade

Contemplated Madison shooting 'deeply disturbing'

Madison leaders voiced concern and frustration about the suspected shooter's travel to the area after the Highland Park shooting, with Democratic elected officials calling for heightened gun restrictions.

"Today’s news that a suspected shooter traveled to Madison and contemplated violence here is deeply disturbing and only underscores the fact that we need a national approach to dealing with gun violence," Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said in a press conference. "Weapons of war have no place in our community."

She said despite the bipartisan agreement reached last week, Congress needed to pass gun safety laws, including banning assault weapons and large-capacity magazines.

Madison Police Chief Shon Barnes said in a statement that he was "deeply troubled to learn the suspected Illinois parade shooter considered carrying out another attack here in Madison."

"We feel for the grieving families in Highland Park and all those forever impacted by the events of Monday’s shooting. We recognize tragedy very well could have taken place in our own community," Barnes said.

In a press conference Wednesday afternoon, he said Highland Park authorities had not specified which celebration the suspect had considered targeting, and Madison police were not aware of his intentions there until Wednesday morning.

Barnes added that about 5 p.m. Monday the FBI contacted Madison police to ask that the department mobilize its SWAT team based on a belief that the suspected gunman could be in the Madison area. The SWAT team began mobilizing but never deployed after being ultimately told that the man had been arrested in Illinois.

He directed questions about the suspect's travels in the Madison area to the FBI and said investigators would have access to cameras in public spaces that could be used to put together a timeline.

Barnes also sought to allay residents' fears of participating in public events, saying the department has long been planning for special events. Those plans include the use of drones and snipers to respond to a shooting from a rooftop, he said.

The Dane County Sheriff's Office announced Wednesday evening that it is not actively involved in the investigation.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said Crimo's presence in Madison was "a frightening reminder of the often randomness of gun violence and that no one is immune."

"Ours is the only developed nation in the world dealing with this level of gun violence, and while there are many contributing factors, the fact remains that guns outnumber people in the United States, and the availability of guns and ammo to basically anyone who wants them is the root cause of the problem," he said in a statement.

"Until our state legislature and Congress get serious about enacting common sense gun laws, these tragedies will continue. It’s long past time for Congress and our state legislature to do some soul searching and act to protect our residents."

Law enforcement search after a mass shooting at the Highland Park Fourth of July parade in downtown Highland Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. Seven people were killed and dozens more injured.
Law enforcement search after a mass shooting at the Highland Park Fourth of July parade in downtown Highland Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. Seven people were killed and dozens more injured.

Democratic state Sens. Kelda Roys and Melissa Agard of Madison cast blame on Republicans.

"Why do we all have to live in terror of the next mass shooting? For one reason only: because Republican legislators refuse to even consider any common sense firearm safety prevention measures. They care more about the gun manufacturers’ lobby and right-wing extremists than the safety of our kids," Roys told the Journal Sentinel in a text message.

Agard in a statement said Americans and Wisconsinites "are not safe" and called it "terrifying" that the shooter had reportedly considered an attack in Madison.

The spokesperson for state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, a Republican, said he had not received information about the situation and did not provide a comment. Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, who is also a Republican, declined to comment.

Republican lawmakers have introduced a bill that would allow anyone otherwise eligible to carry a concealed gun to do so without a license. Gun advocates refer to such laws as "constitutional carry."

Republican gubernatorial candidates former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and state Rep. Tim Ramthun say they would sign the bill if they are elected. Republican candidate Tim Michels has not weighed in on the issue.

More charges expected in Illinois

Dillon, the Lake County assistant state's attorney, said in court that the gunman climbed up the fire escape of a building above the Highland Park parade, “looked down his sights, aimed” and fired at people across the street.

He left the shells of 83 bullets and three ammunition magazines on the rooftop. He initially evaded capture by disguising himself as a woman and blending into the fleeing crowd, according to police.

Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart said he planned to bring attempted murder and aggravated battery charges for each individual who was hurt.

“There will be many, many more charges coming,” he said at a news conference, estimating that those charges would be announced later this month.

If convicted of the first-degree murder charges, the gunman would receive a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Crimo wore a black long-sleeve shirt as he appeared in court by video. As the prosecutor described the shooting, he said little besides telling the judge that he did not have a lawyer.

On Tuesday, Thomas A. Durkin, a prominent Chicago-based lawyer, said he would represent Crimo and that he intended to enter a not guilty plea to all charges. But Durkin told the court Wednesday that he had a conflict of interest with the case. Crimo has been assigned a public defender.

Rinehart also left open the possibility of charging Crimo’s parents, telling reporters that he “doesn’t want to answer” that question right now as the investigation continues.

Steve Greenberg, the lawyer for Crimo’s parents, told The Associated Press that the parents aren’t concerned about being charged with anything related to their son’s case.

Questions also arose about how the suspect could have skirted Illinois’ relatively strict gun laws to legally purchase five weapons, including the high-powered rifle used in the shooting, despite authorities being called to his home twice in 2019 for threats of violence and suicide.

Police went to the home following a call from a family member who said Crimo was threatening “to kill everyone” there. Covelli said police confiscated 16 knives, a dagger and a sword, but said there was no sign he had any guns at the time, in September 2019. Police in April 2019 also responded to a reported suicide attempt by Crimo, Covelli said.

Illinois state police, who issue gun owners’ licenses, said Crimo applied for a license in December 2019, when he was 19. His father sponsored his application, and he purchased the semi-automatic rifles in 2020, according to Covelli.

In all, police said, he purchased five firearms, which were recovered by officers at his father’s home. He purchased four of the guns while he was under 21 and bought a fifth after his birthday last year.

The revelations about his gun purchases offered just the latest example of young men who were able to obtain guns and carry out massacres in recent months despite glaring warning signs about their mental health and inclination to violence.

The state police have defended how the application was handled, saying that at the time “there was insufficient basis to establish a clear and present danger” and deny the application, state police said in a statement.

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.

In 2013, Highland Park officials approved a ban on semi-automatic weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines. A local doctor and the Illinois State Rifle Association quickly challenged the liberal suburb’s stance. The legal fight ended at the U.S. Supreme Court’s doorstep in 2015 when justices declined to hear the case and let the suburb’s restrictions remain in place.

Asked whether Crimo’s case demonstrates flaws in state law, Rinehart said that “the gap in the state’s gun laws would be that we don’t ban assault weapons.”

Under Illinois law, gun purchases can be denied to people convicted of felonies, addicted to narcotics or those deemed capable of harming themselves or others. That last provision might have stopped a suicidal Crimo from getting a weapon.

But under the law, who that provision applies to must be decided by “a court, board, commission or other legal authority.”

The state has a so-called red flag law designed to stop dangerous people before they kill, but it requires family members, relatives, roommates or police to ask a judge to order guns seized.

Crimo, who goes by the name Bobby, was an aspiring rapper with the stage name Awake the Rapper, posting on social media dozens videos and songs, some ominous and violent.

Isaac Yu of the Journal Sentinel and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Highland Park suspect Robert Crimo contemplated shooting in Madison