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Threats from Highland Park suspect drew police attention in 2019

Police say the 21-year-old spent weeks planning the attack that killed seven and injured dozens more

Police arrested a “person of interest” hours after a shooting at the Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Ill. (Video: The Washington Post)

HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. — The 21-year-old charged with opening fire at an Independence Day parade here had so alarmed his family with violent threats in 2019 that they summoned police, who confiscated more than a dozen knives and other sharp weapons from his home, authorities said Tuesday.

Police were contacted in September 2019 by a relative who reported that Robert Crimo III had a collection of knives and “said he was going to kill everyone,” said Christopher Covelli, a spokesman for the Lake County Major Crime Task Force. Police took the weapons but did not seek criminal charges.

“At that time, there was no probable cause to arrest,” Covelli said at a news briefing. “There were no complaints that were signed by any of the victims.”

Officers had also been called to the home earlier that year because of a reported suicide attempt by Crimo, Covelli said.

July Fourth parade shooting suspect Robert E. Crimo III was visited by police in 2019, who removed knives, a dagger and a sword from the home. (Video: Reuters)

In the months after the two police visits, the suspected attacker acquired five firearms, including the powerful rifle police say he fired dozens of times into a crowd during Monday’s holiday parade in this suburb of Chicago. Seven people were killed, and dozens more were injured.

Police apprehended Crimo after an hours-long manhunt. On Tuesday, authorities charged him with seven counts of first-degree murder, with dozens of additional charges expected to follow. He is expected to appear in court Wednesday morning; prosecutors said they will ask that he be held without bail.

Attorney Thomas Durkin, who identified himself as one of two lawyers representing Crimo, declined to answer questions about his client Tuesday evening but said he probably would issue a statement after Wednesday’s court appearance.

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It was not clear Tuesday whether the 2019 incidents should have prevented Crimo from acquiring multiple rifles and handguns. But the incidents added to a deepening portrait of a young man who seemingly left suggestions of violence in both his home and online lives well before the carnage at the parade.

Investigators were still searching for what could have motivated the gunfire, which Covelli described as “completely random.” Crimo was talking to investigators, Covelli said. His profile is one that has become grimly and increasingly familiar in recent years: a young man, armed with legally acquired firepower, who allegedly unleashed bloodshed in sudden, terrifying fashion.

The Illinois State Police said Tuesday evening that Crimo passed background checks when purchasing guns four times, on June 9, July 18 and July 31, 2020, and on Sept. 20, 2021.

Based on preliminary information, Covelli said, police had no indication that the shooting was motivated by any type of racial or religious animus — a fear that had circulated given the area’s large and close-knit Jewish community.

According to police, the suspect in the parade attack had plotted for weeks.

Covelli said the gunman sought to conceal his identity by wearing women’s clothing intended to cover his facial tattoos. Then, Covelli said, the gunman abandoned his rifle and made his escape by blending into terrified crowds rushing from the scene.

The attacker, he said, then walked to his mother’s house and borrowed her car.

Exactly where the suspected attacker went during the frenzied hours after the shooting remained unclear, but Covelli said Tuesday that he apparently had driven into Wisconsin, gone to the Madison area, then returned. Another motorist saw his vehicle and called 911. When police took him into custody, Covelli said, they found another rifle in the car — and like the one found along the parade route, it was legally purchased.

“This is not something where this kid woke up one day and said, ‘Hey, I think I’ll go shoot a bunch of people.’ It’s clear he’s been planning this for months and months,” said Lori Ann Post, who researches mass shootings as director of Northwestern University’s Buehler Center for Health Policy and Economics.

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The 2019 incidents in which police were called to the shooting suspect’s home were months apart. In April, Covelli said, someone contacted police in Highland Park to report that Crimo had attempted suicide a week earlier. When police responded, they spoke to him and his parents; because he was getting mental health treatment, Covelli said, police did not take any further action.

That September, police were contacted again, this time about the knives, Covelli said. Highland Park police confiscated 16 knives, a dagger and a sword from the home. They also contacted the Illinois State Police — which manages the firearm owner’s identification cards that allow people in the state to possess guns and ammunition.

The state police said Tuesday evening that Highland Park police filed a “clear and present danger” report based on the incident; the report said Crimo told police officers he did not feel like harming himself or others. The report also said Crimo’s father told officers the knives belonged to him and were being stored in his son’s closet for safekeeping, state police said in a statement. Highland Park police returned the weapons to the elder Crimo the same day, state police said.

A state police spokeswoman said that when the September 2019 incident occurred, Crimo did not have a firearm owner’s identification card or a pending application for one. In December of that year, when Crimo was 19, he applied for a card, the state police said in a statement. He was under 21, the agency said, and his father sponsored the application. When the application was reviewed in January 2020, “there was insufficient basis to establish a clear and present danger and deny” his application, the agency said.

Gabriella Cooperman, 22, overlapped with Crimo at Edgewood Middle School and Highland Park High School and regularly saw him at the deli run by Crimo’s father and uncle, a community hangout.

“He was always just in his own world,” Cooperman said. “He didn’t have many friends. He wasn’t that personable.”

He was enrolled in Highland Park High for his freshman year and the first two days of his sophomore year but stopped attending in August 2016, said Karen Warner, a spokeswoman for the school district. She declined to say why he stopped attending, citing state privacy laws.

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Cooperman recalled often seeing Crimo during his early high school years, sitting in the corner of the deli, his long bangs hanging partially over his face.

“He always gave weird, creepy vibes,” she said. “He had kind of a sulking-in-the-corner energy combined with I’m-watching-you energy.”

The deli his family ran recently closed, Cooperman said.

His father, Robert Crimo Jr., had run unsuccessfully for mayor of Highland Park in 2019. Attempts to reach his relatives since the shooting have been unsuccessful. His uncle Paul Crimo told a local television station that he and his nephew live on the same property — with the younger man having a separate apartment — but had minimal interactions, describing him as “a YouTube rapper” who kept things to himself.

In images released by police and across social media profiles, the alleged shooter — who authorities have described as White — is slight, with a patchy beard and tattoos visible on his face and neck. One of the tattoos, sitting above his left eyebrow, reads “Awake,” the name he used online. He had a seemingly modest following, with amateur music videos on YouTube and tracks posted to Spotify.

Videos that he appeared to have posted alternated between ominous imagery — including depictions of death and bloodshed — and more anodyne footage, such as him rapping into the camera.

One video includes a cartoon depiction of someone aiming a long gun. Two other cartoon figures are visible in the video; one is sprawled on the ground, while the other is on its knees, raising its arms. The video also shows someone — apparently Crimo — seated at a classroom desk, before cutting to another cartoon image, this one showing a bleeding person. Another video shows a cartoon image of a person with a long gun, facedown in a pool of blood, while police stand nearby, at least one of them wielding their own firearm.

Other videos included more mundane activities, such as footage that appears to show a presidential motorcade passing by. Photos that appear to show Crimo attending a rally for former president Donald Trump have also surfaced, but it is not clear from his online postings whether he was a supporter of Trump or any other political party or candidate.

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Bennett Brizes, who became friends with Crimo around 2015 through the music scene, said Crimo was “consistently apolitical.” At one point, Brizes said, Crimo appeared to make decent money from his music.

But the two grew apart and stopped talking around 2019, he said, and when they spoke last year, the suspected attacker seemed “depressed,” Brizes said.

No one answered the door Tuesday at the white stucco home with peeling paint in Highwood, Ill., where Crimo is believed to have lived in recent years with his uncle and father; a Ring doorbell camera was covered with tape.

The house sits on a hill on a quiet, leafy neighborhood less than two miles from the parade attack scene.

In the driveway sat a rusting silver Honda CRV. Parked in the grass was an older-model Acura with monster mouth decals, anime character stickers and the number 47 painted on one side.

Berman reported from Washington; Pietsch from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; and De Vynck from San Francisco. Shawn Boburg, Reis Thebault and Praveena Somasundaram contributed to this report.

Guns in America

Mass shootings: There have already been more than 300 mass shootings across the nation in 2022. Such events have been on the rise in recent years, and a disproportionate number of shooters in the U.S. are young men.

Visualizing gun violence: These charts help show the the extent to which gun violence impacts people across the country.

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Regulation and law: Until the bipartisan Safer Communities Act in June, congressional efforts to significantly change gun policies had largely failed for at least a decade. The effectiveness of gun control laws is often debated politically — here’s what research shows.