Michele Rebollar remembers the moment during her son Anthony LaPorte’s funeral when Bobby Crimo—now charged with massacring seven people and wounding two dozen others at a Chicago suburb’s Fourth of July parade—stood up to speak.
It was August 2017, and the long-haired, awkward Crimo described how Anthony was one of the only people he had to confide in. “My name is Bobby, and Anthony was the person I would call when I couldn’t sleep and he would always reply,” Crimo says in a video of the memorial service reviewed by The Daily Beast.
“And he was always free to hang out and whenever I was with him. It felt like I wasn’t alone anymore, like I had somebody there, like, that was actually there,” he added.
“There were so many nights we would just keep walking ‘cause both of us could never sleep and our conversations would be so deep. I really did love Anthony. He was a really good friend,” Crimo told the church.
Now Rebollar is grappling with how a quiet kid who spent time at Highland Park’s skatepark with her sons could have committed a crime so monstrous, one that stole the lives of two parents to a young toddler, the lives of grandparents, and mothers.
The shooting impacted her personally. She knows people who were killed at the parade. And she’s friends with one man, Alexander Sandoval, who hid his son in a dumpster during the chaos of the shooting. “His son now can’t sleep and is having night terrors,” she said.
Rebollar didn’t initially want to speak about Crimo, but she also doesn’t want her son’s name dragged through the mud as a mass shooter’s only friend.
“It broke my heart that my son, who was the most gentle spirit in the world, who would have carried a bug out of the house rather than kill it … that somehow he would be connected in some way, shape, or form [to Crimo] just is horrific.”
“Because he would never have done anything like this to anybody,” Rebollar said. “He probably loved Bobby and probably did whatever he could for him.”
After reviewing the footage of Crimo speaking about Anthony, Rebollar believes it shows Crimo’s state of mind five years ago. “It’s kind of touching, and I don’t want to be touching about a mass murderer, you know?” she said. “It’s horrific. There’s no justification, he could have got help, he could have told somebody, but if you’ve never had somebody to tell, how do you even know who to tell, if no one’s ever been there for you?”
She believes much of Crimo’s internet presence, which included disturbing social media posts and rap songs, was more recent. “So what happened between then and now?” she said. “If you get to the point where you want to kill people in your hometown, where you learned to skateboard, like what happened?”
Still, Rebollar was surprised when Crimo shared words at Anthony’s service. She came to realize that Anthony, who had mental health issues himself and easily empathized with others, attracted people who didn’t have many friends or were loners.
“That was the person Anthony was, so a lot of people might have considered Anthony one of their only true friends,” Rebollar said. “I’m sure that Bobby had some very deep moments with Anthony. Because everybody did.”
Crimo stopped spending time with her family after Anthony died of a drug overdose, and Crimo lost touch with her other sons after junior high. But when they were young, they hung out at the local skate park, Sunset Park, she said.
“When Anthony died, maybe he was the only person that [Crimo] could really be honest with about his thoughts, because Anthony has also suffered a lot of thoughts that he did not like, intrusive thoughts that he was not comfortable with. So he understood. If somebody else came to him, you know, he might have very well been able to talk him down or, you know, talk him out of doing whatever he did,” Rebollar said.
Looking back, Rebollar says, she wonders if she should have reached out to Crimo more. He was quieter than the other kids, and from her experience, teenage boys or preteen boys aren’t typically that silent.
Rebollar’s family is shocked that Crimo made national news for senselessly gunning down innocent people.
Anthony’s brother, Andres Christopher Lopez, told The Daily Beast that his friend group, which included Crimo at some points, used to spend hours skateboarding outside a local Dairy Queen. “He was just the quiet one,” Lopez said. “Maybe the nerdy one. But never was he anything but a happy kid.”
“So hearing about it now, it just blows my mind,” Lopez added. “When I think about him, I don’t think about the tattoos on his face and the gun in his hand. I think about the kid I used to skateboard around with.”
Rebollar noted that the affluent Highland Park community and nearby Highwood, where she lives, are like one big community with a dividing line between rich and poor, which she says also translates into a dividing line between white and Hispanic. As a single mom raising four children, her family didn’t have many resources. And while Bobby wasn’t destitute—his dad owned a popular deli in town—he seemed to hang out with the teens who didn’t have as much wealth and privilege.
“How can you even have any kind of empathy for Bobby? You think about all the victims and how can you even feel bad?” she asked. “I don’t feel bad for his future. I think he’ll get what he deserves.” But Rebollar says she knows how it feels to be judged in the community, since she’s lost one child to a drug overdose and another child recently to suicide, and thinks about how Crimo’s parents will be “judged forever” by their town.
Former high-school classmates painted a different picture of Crimo in recent days.
They told The Daily Beast he was disruptive and defiant in classes and often tried to promote his rap music to fellow students.
“There were lots of red flags with him,” one former Highland Park High School classmate said on Tuesday. “I told my teacher I didn’t want to sit next to him. He really scared me.”
Ethan Absler, another classmate, said Crimo appeared to have “behavioral red flags,” and was “reserved and kind of mysterious.”
“There were definitely behavioral red flags with him, nothing that said this kid’s angry or dangerous or violent or a shooter or anything like that,” Absler told The Daily Beast, “but kind of the type where you think the kid’s weird or he’s got some problems with behavior or authority.” Absler said Crimo would interrupt classes with his Soundcloud promotions.
He once got suspended, Absler added, for printing out stickers with his rap logo and placing them around school in areas that were hard to reach.
Absler almost attended his city’s July Fourth parade but backed out because his 11-year-old brother didn’t feel like going. Like other residents, he’s still in shock over the bloodshed.
“Everybody in this country is desensitized to the words, ‘It will never come to your town,’ and the words ‘mass shooting’ and things like that,” Absler said. “Highland Park is so picturesque and safe. We’d leave our doors unlocked and laugh at the idea of any sort of violent crime being a possibility and now I just feel ignorant for thinking that.”
During a Wednesday bond hearing, authorities revealed that Crimo allegedly confessed to orchestrating Monday’s mass shooting and that he “seriously contemplated” carrying out a second attack soon after in Madison, Wisconsin. While a motive for Crimo’s heinous spree has yet to be disclosed, Assistant State Attorney Ben Dillon said Crimo told investigators that he “dressed up like a girl and covered his tattoos with makeup” to avoid recognition as he opened fire from the roof of a business overlooking the parade route. After the spree, Crimo said the Smith and Wesson M&P 15 used to carry out the attack accidentally fell out of the backpack—a mistake that authorities say was critical in finding Crimo.
In a press conference after the hearing, Lake County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Chief Christopher Covelli also revealed that the 21-year-old alleged killer “had some type of affinity toward ‘4’ and ‘7’,” numbers that are etched on Crimo's face, and noted that the it “apparently comes from some music he is interested in.”
— with additional reporting by Pilar Melendez
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