Chicago shooting: Alleged gunman bought assault rifles after threatening violence and suicide

·5 min read
Robert Crimo III disguised himself as a woman to blend in with a crowd, police said - WMAQ
Robert Crimo III disguised himself as a woman to blend in with a crowd, police said - WMAQ

The gunman who attacked an Independence Day parade in suburban Chicago legally bought high-powered rifles despite police being called to his home twice after he threatened suicide and violence.

The suspected shooter, named as 21-year-old Robert Crimo, was on Tuesday night charged with seven counts of first-degree murder.

Police said Crimo used a gun "similar to an AR-15" to spray more than 70 rounds into a crowd that had gathered for the July 4 celebrations in Highland Park.

Police said they were called to the suspect's home in September 2019 after a family member called to say he was threatening "to kill everyone" in the home. Christopher Covelli, task force spokesman, said last night that officers confiscated 16 knives, a dagger and a sword but there was not a cause for arrest. Also that year he was said to have attempted suicide.

Questions will be asked as to how the suspect managed to purchase the firearms last year in Illinois despite the Democrat-run state’s so-called red flag laws, which allows for the temporary removal of guns from those deemed to pose a significant risk to themselves or others.

Crimo used a high-powered rifle during the attack which he spent weeks preparing, police believe.

He was able to escape for a time owing to his disguise, according to law enforcement officials, who explained that he covered up his distinctive tattoos in preparation for the shooting.

Crimo used a fire escape ladder to scale the building and created a sniper’s nest, giving him an ideal vantage point to fire on revellers below.

According to police, Crimo had bought two guns legally. One was an AR-15 style assault rifle, police spokesman Chris Covelli, said. In all, he fired 70 rounds.

Having escaped the scene, Crimo went to his mother’s home, where he borrowed her car before being arrested at about 6.30pm on Monday, eight miles north of Highland Park.

Police officers escort people to safety during Monday's shooting - GETTY IMAGES
Police officers escort people to safety during Monday's shooting - GETTY IMAGES

In the hours following the attack, disturbing details emerged about the 21-year-old known as “Bobby” to his friends.

His family was well established in the town where his father, who ran a bakery and deli, ran unsuccessfully for mayor.

“I'm heartbroken. I’m so heartbroken. There were no signs that I saw that would make him do this,” Crimo’s uncle, Paul, told CNN.

“He’s a quiet kid. He’s usually on his own. He’s a lonely, quiet person. He keeps everything to himself.”

Disturbing details emerge of ‘normal little boy’

Crimo was a “normal little boy”, recalled Nancy Rotering, the Highland Park mayor, who taught him as a cub scout.

“It's one of those situations where you stand back and ask, what happened?

“How did somebody become this angry, this hateful, to then take it out on innocent people who were just literally having a family day out.”

Crimo bought two guns legally - REUTERS
Crimo bought two guns legally - REUTERS

Crimo’s alter ego was “Awake the Rapper”, who started uploading music to the internet when he was 11.

His social media showed him to be a supporter of Donald Trump. He was also pictured wearing a jumper decorated with a “Pepe the Frog” meme, a symbol popular among alt-Right groups.

His YouTube channel was awash with videos containing mass shooting fantasies. One referred to Lee Harvey Oswald, who assassinated John F Kennedy, and another showed Crimo wearing tactical gear inside a classroom, dropping golden bullets on the floor.

A further post showed a cartoon of a man holding a rifle before being shot by police and being left in a pool of blood.

‘I need to do just do it... It is my destiny’

Another YouTube video posted eight months ago featured cartoons of a gunman and people being shot.

A voiceover says, "I need to just do it."

It adds: "It is my destiny. Everything has led up to this. Nothing can stop me, not even myself."

These warnings were missed in Illinois, a state with some of the strictest red flag warning laws in the US, which considers a gun purchaser’s social media history.

Two of the victims: Jacki Sundheim and Nicolas Toledo
Two of the victims: Jacki Sundheim and Nicolas Toledo

Identities of the victims began to emerge on Tuesday. Among the dead were Kevin McCarthy and his wife, Irina, the parents of a two-year-old boy who was found wandering alone and bloodied after the shooting.

Another, Jacki Sundheim, was a teacher at the North Shore Congregation Israel, a synagogue three miles from Highland Park.

As well as 78-year-old grandfather, Nicolas Toledo.

David Baum, a doctor who rushed towards the injured during the shooting, told CNN: “I didn’t think about it. You just instinctively feel like you have to do something.”

“The wounds were something out of a conflict zone.

“Those are what are seen in victims of war, not victims at a parade.”

According to the Gun Violence Archive, Highland Park was the 316th mass shooting – defined as where four or more people are hit by bullets – this year.

The shooting has rekindled the debate about America’s gun laws, despite additional safeguards being introduced by the bipartisan bill signed by Joe Biden last month.

Illinois governor JB Pritzker, tipped as a possible Democratic presidential candidate in 2024, called for more to be done.

“It’s the 4th of July - a day for reflection on our freedoms. Our founders carried muskets, not assault weapons.

“And I don’t think a single one of them would have said you have a constitutional right to an assault weapon with a high-capacity magazine — or that that is more important than the right of the people who attended this parade today to live.”