Suspect in Chicago July 4 parade shooting planned attack for weeks, fled with crowd in women’s clothes

Police believe suspect Crimo (left) wore women's clothes to try to cover up his tattoos and aid his escape from the scene (right). PHOTOS: REUTERS, AFP

HIGHLAND PARK, ILLINOIS (REUTERS) - The man accused of killing seven people at a Fourth of July parade near Chicago had planned the attack for weeks and had come to authorities’ attention at least twice before on reports that he threatened suicide or harm to others, local officials said on Tuesday (July 5).

Authorities said the suspect fired more than 70 rounds from a rooftop at random onto people watching Monday’s parade in Highland Park, Illinois, and then made his getaway dressed in women’s clothing to blend in with the panic-stricken crowd, authorities said on Tuesday.

The suspect, 21-year-old Robert E. Crimo III, had a history of erratic behaviour, authorities said, but they offered no possible motive. He surrendered to police hours after the attack, which sent more than three dozen other people to area hospitals for treatment of gunshot wounds and other injuries suffered in the pandemonium.

After fleeing the scene, the suspect had driven to Wisconsin and back to Illinois before he was pulled over and arrested on Monday, police said.

Sergeant Chris Covelli, a spokesman for the Lake County Sheriff’s office, told reporters the suspect would likely make his first court appearance on Wednesday if criminal charges were filed later on Tuesday. It was not immediately clear if Crimo had a lawyer.

At a late-afternoon news briefing on Tuesday, Covelli cited two previous encounters between Crimo and law enforcement – an April 2019 emergency-911 call reporting he had attempted suicide and another in September of that year regarding alleged threats 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, Covelli said.

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

Police revised the confirmed casualty toll from the shooting with the death of a seventh person who succumbed to his injuries on Tuesday.

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

Crimo, who has distinctive facial tattoos, wore women’s clothing on Monday in an apparent effort to mask his identity as he made his getaway, Covelli told reporters.

“He blended right in with everybody else as they were running around, almost as if he was an innocent spectator as well,” Covelli said. The suspect fled to his mother’s house nearby, and later borrowed his mother’s car.

The shooting took place in a neighborhood with a large Jewish population, but police had no evidence of any anti-Semitic or racist basis. Investigators were reviewing videos he had made filled with violent imagery.

The suspect used a high-powered rifle for the attack, similar to an AR-15, which he dropped at the scene.

He had a similar rifle in his mother’s car, which he was driving when taken into custody by police, and owned other guns, all of which were bought legally in Illinois, officials said. In all, Crimo had purchased five firearms, including rifles and handguns.

‘Still reeling’

Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering said the community of 30,000 was still 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.” President Joe Biden ordered US flags to be flown at half-mast in mourning until sunset on Saturday.

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.

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

Congress last month passed its first major federal gun reform in three decades, providing federal funding to states that administer “red flag” laws intended to remove guns from people deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.

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.

Rotering, the city’s mayor, 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 of Highland Park.

Online social media posts written by the suspect or 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.

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