HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. – Police say he legally purchased a high-powered rifle, disguised himself in women’s clothing, and climbed to a rooftop. Then he is alleged to have opened fire on a Fourth of July parade in a wealthy Chicago suburb, killing seven and wounding dozens.
But the motivation behind the latest U.S. mass shooting – an attack authorities say was “well-orchestrated and carefully planned” for weeks – remains a puzzle to investigators and the shattered community.
Authorities on Tuesday evening announced they charged Robert “Bobby” Crimo III, 21, with seven counts of first-degree murder. Dozens of other lesser charges are expected. Police did not offer any explanation for the attack.
“We have not developed a motive from him,” said Deputy Chief Christopher Covelli of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, adding there were no apparent signs the attack was motived by race or religion. “By all indications, it appears Crimo was acting by himself.”
Investigators say immediately after shooting into the crowd, Crimo donned women’s clothing and left behind a rifle on a rooftop, potentially to better blend in and escape.
Police said it appeared Crimo then drove to neighboring Wisconsin after the shooting, but returned and was apprehended nearby “without incident” following a short car chase about 5 miles away from the shooting scene.
Lake County State’s Attorney Eric F. Rinehart on Tuesday evening said the seven counts of first-degree murder are just the first of many charges Crimo will face, an announcement cheered loudly by community members.
Rinehart called Crimo’s attack “a well-orchestrated and carefully planned crime” but declined to elaborate. He said he would ask a judge on Wednesday morning to hold Crimo in jail without the possibility of bail.
“We anticipate dozens of more charges centering around each of the victims – psychological victims, physical victims,” Rinehart said. “These seven counts of first-degree murder will lead to a mandatory life sentence should he be convicted, without the possibility of parole.”
Property records, school information and family friends say Crimo grew up in the Highland Park area, attended Highland Park High School as a freshman for a year in 2015-2015, and attended a local nondenominational Christian church for at least four years.
Authorities on Tuesday also revealed Crimo had been reported to police twice in 2019, first in April for an attempted suicide, and then in September when a family member reported to police that Crimo was “going to kill everyone” and had a collection of knives.
Police confiscated knives, a dagger and a sword from his home, Covelli said of that September 2019 incident.
Illinois State Police Sgt. Delila Garcia said the individual at the time had no Firearm Owner’s Identification Card, which identifies a person as eligible to possess/acquire firearms, to revoke or review.
This April, Crimo entered a nearby synagogue, said Rabbi Yosef Schanowitz, co-director of the North Suburban Lubavitch Chabad – Central Avenue Synagogue.
Schanowitz told USA TODAY on Tuesday that authorities had asked him not to speak about the specifics but confirmed that Crimo, who he noted had face tattoos and was not a member of the congregation, was asked to leave shortly after entering during Passover services. Like many synagogues, the Central Avenue Synagogue is guarded by armed security during services, Schanowitz said.
Charlotte Bank, who attended a vigil for the victims on Tuesday afternoon, said she knew Crimo from Thursday night small-group gatherings and Sunday services at Christ Church Highland Park, a nondenominational church.
Bank said Crimo was quiet and usually only offered surface-level comments when he spoke. She didn’t know about his personal life, although she’d known him through the church for about four years.
She said was attending the vigil because she wanted to “reconcile her own feelings” about the man she knew from the church group and the shooter she’d seen on the news.
Crimo’s father, Robert Crimo Jr., 58, owned the nearby restaurant Bob’s Pantry & Deli, records show, and Crimo Jr. ran for mayor of Highland Park in 2019. Election records in Lake County, Illinois, show he lost to the current mayor, who won 72% of the votes.
Police recover two rifles owned by Crimo
The rifle recovered from the shooting scene was “similar to an AR-15” using high-velocity rounds and did not appear to be modified, Covelli said.
Crimo had purchased two rifles legally from different locations and in his name in the Chicagoland area, Covelli said. One was found at the scene and a second one was in his car. Other legally purchased firearms were recovered from his residence.
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives quickly traced the rifle left at the scene to determine its history, said Kimberly Nerheim, a Chicago spokeswoman for the agency.
Crimo had planned the attack for several weeks before firing more than 70 rounds into the crowd and then leaving behind the rifle. Covelli said. He and other investigators have declined to specify why they believe the attack was long-planned, or why the rifle was left behind.
“There are a number of theories on the table as to why he left his weapon there,” Covelli said. “It’s very clear to investigators he attempted to blend in with the rest of the victims who were fleeing the scene. Carrying a rifle, I would imagine, wouldn’t let anyone blend in very well. The weapon led to him directly.”
Crimo’s uncle, Paul Crimo, told Fox 32 he had just seen his nephew the day before in the home that he shared with his brother. The suspect lived in a separate apartment, and Paul Crimo said he did not know where he obtained a weapon.
Suspect is a rapper with large online footprint
The suspect is a rapper and artist who did not have a job but previously worked at Panera Bread, Paul Crimo said. “He’s a real quiet kid. Keeps everything to himself,” Paul Crimo said, and he was often at his computer. “I’m deeply heartbroken,” he said. USA TODAY could not immediately reach Paul Crimo for comment.
Crimo performed under the name “Awake the Rapper” and posted on YouTube and other platforms multiple videos of violent images, including a man with a rifle shooting people. Another video he posted showed a cartoon character carrying a rifle and facedown in a pool of blood, surrounded by police officers.
Crimo also posted a picture of a newspaper clipping on his bedroom wall referencing the death of Lee Harvey Oswald, who assassinated President John F. Kennedy with a rifle from an elevated location in November 1963. Authorities say the Highland Park shooter fired upon July Fourth festivities from the rooftop of a building.
Crimo’s large online footprint – primarily videos – can provide some insight into his motivation, said Kesa White, a program research associate at the American University Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab.
White studies, in part, how people become radicalized online. She said his videos suggest he wanted to be “seen” by others, in the same way his facial tattoos signal his desire to be noticed and stand out.
“In his postings across all social media platforms, he definitely showcased his willingness to commit violence more than we normally see, because he was very explicit about it,” White told USA TODAY. “Many shooters have online profiles but aren’t as explicit or show themselves at political events as we’re seeing with this shooter.”
White is not associated with the investigation.
Scott Bonn, an author and criminology expert, said Crimo’s actions likely came following months or years of anger and frustration. He said Crimo, like many other mass shooters, was probably driven by a toxic cocktail of gun access, fierce individualism, vengeance and a culture of vigilante justice celebrated in popular entertainment. Bonn is a blogger for Psychology Today and author of the book “Why We Love Serial Killers.”
“Mass public shootings are committed by angry, vengeful individuals who seek retribution against some person, group or institution for a perceived harm or injustice against them. They do not snap,” Bonn said Tuesday. “Their anger simmers until it reaches a boil and then they make a plan to strike back and make their mark on society.”
Bennett Brizes posted on Twitter that he made music with Crimo between 2015 and 2018 and suggested that he wasn’t a political person, at least at the time. He spoke with The Washington Post and said the two grew apart and stopped talking around 2019, and when they spoke early last year, Crimo seemed “depressed.”
USA TODAY was unable to reach Brizes through email and social media.
Violent videos connected to Crimo removed from YouTube after shooting
Violent videos that appear to be connected to Crimo were removed from YouTube in the hours after the shooting. The account posting the videos was suspended. YouTube did not immediately return USA TODAY’s request for comment.
In a video for the Awake the Rapper song “Out of This World,” drawings depict a gunman wearing a tactical vest and carrying a semi-automatic rifle, bodies on the ground around him. As he aims, a faceless figure raises its hands in surrender. The gunman wears a helmet with what appears to be a Go-Pro style camera attached. Other images of seemingly anguished characters appear as the voice raps: “I just want to scream. Sometimes it feels like I’m living a dream.”
Asked at a news conference by a reporter about possible struggles during Crimo’s youth, Covelli said, “We’re going to reach out to everybody we possibly can … whether that is family members, teachers, friends.”