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Suspect confessed to mass shooting, considered 2nd attack, authorities say

Alleged gunman drove to Wisconsin and thought about opening fire on another July 4 gathering, authorities said

Lori Weisskopf, 50, and Jeremy Weisskopf, 15, visit a memorial site July 6 near the scene of the mass shooting at the Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Ill. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)
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HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. — The 21-year-old charged with carrying out a mass shooting from a rooftop overlooking a Fourth of July parade in a Chicago suburb confessed to the deadly attack, prosecutors said Wednesday, and investigators said the gunman considered committing a similar shooting in Wisconsin later that same day.

Robert Crimo III was held without bond because he poses a threat to the community, an Illinois judge ruled during Crimo’s first court appearance since allegedly shooting more than 80 rounds from a semiautomatic rifle and then fleeing the scene in women’s clothing to disguise his identity. The rampage left seven dead and dozens injured, the latest mass shooting to rattle a traumatized nation.

In the hours after the shooting in Highland Park, a lakeside suburb north of Chicago, Crimo drove around and contemplated using a rifle to shoot more people at an Independence Day celebration in Madison, Wis., said Christopher Covelli, a spokesman for the Lake County Major Crime Task Force.

Christopher Covelli, a spokesman for the Lake County Major Crime Task Force, said the suspect in Highland Park, Ill., contemplated targeting Madison, Wis. (Video: AP)

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Crimo faces seven counts of first-degree murder, and authorities have said they expect to file dozens more charges against him in the coming weeks. If convicted of the murder charges, Crimo would face life in prison without parole.

Appearing via video feed at the bond hearing in Lake County court, he looked nervous, sometime squinting, blinking and pursing his lips. As the names of the deceased shooting victims were read — including Eduardo Uvaldo, 69, of Waukegan, Ill., the last of the victims to be publicly identified — Crimo had no reaction.

Investigators said Wednesday they were still searching for a motive, as reports of the suspect’s past encounters with police raised questions about how he purchased five firearms in 2020 and 2021 and whether the massacre could have been averted.

Police came into contact with Crimo in April 2019, following a report that he had attempted suicide, authorities have said, and again in September of that year when one of Crimo’s family members called police saying he had threatened to “kill everyone.” Officers confiscated knives and a sword from Crimo’s residence during the second encounter but filed no charges against him.

Crimo’s parents said through their lawyer on Wednesday that they did not see warning signs of the massacre and don’t know what motivated him. Crimo’s father signed a consent form in 2019 allowing his son, then under 21, to apply for a card that authorizes Illinois residents to own a firearm.

“They don’t know any more than we do,” said lawyer Steve Greenberg. “We can all look in hindsight and say, ‘What did we miss?’ But if there were really problems that were missed, then co-workers missed them, friends missed them, teachers missed them, and family missed them.”

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New details on the shooting and the suspect

Crimo used a fire escape ladder to climb atop a building along the parade route, prosecutors said at the court appearance. Investigators reviewed surveillance footage and cellphone videos from parade attendees that showed the gunman firing a semiautomatic rifle from the roof of the building into the crowd below.

Crimo told police he had fired three full 30-round magazines at the crowd, prosecutors alleged. Investigators found the three magazines and 83 spent shell casings on the roof where the shooter opened fire.

While fleeing down a nearby alley, a semiautomatic rifle wrapped in cloth allegedly spilled out of the gunman’s bag. Investigators said the rifle had a serial number that was traced to Crimo. He had purchased the Smith & Wesson M&P 15 semiautomatic rifle at a local gun store in 2020, said Assistant State’s Attorney Ben Dillon.

After allegedly leaving the parade route, Crimo went to his mother’s house nearby, took her car and headed north, authorities said. As he drove around the college town of Madison, he allegedly saw another Fourth of July celebration and “seriously contemplated” using a Kel-Tec rifle and about 60 rounds that were in his car to commit another shooting, Covelli said.

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Questions remain about why Crimo did not go through with the idea, Covelli told reporters, adding that there were indications he had not done enough planning. The FBI recovered Crimo’s phone, which he had abandoned in Middleton, Wis., about six miles northwest of Madison, Covelli said.

Authorities have released few biographical details about Crimo, who left Highland Park High School early in the 10th grade, dabbled in rap music and has been described by some who knew him as a loner. Before the presidential election in 2020, he became a fixture at local rallies in support of President Donald Trump and gatherings of far-right activists, said Rachael Wachstein, a longtime resident who organizes social justice events in the mostly liberal area.

Wachstein said she first saw Crimo at a September gathering of Trump supporters held near the site of the July 4 shooting. It drew a crowd of local counterprotesters, according to Wachstein and local news accounts. “He was pretty aggressive,” she said. “He was up in my friend’s face, shouting.” In photos of the event, Crimo, wearing bright red pants and a sweatshirt with a smiley face, can be seen standing near a crowd holding pro-Trump flags, as police officers monitor the gathering.

In the weeks that followed, Wachstein said she spotted Crimo at a similar pro-Trump event in Northbrook and with a group of far-right activists that showed up to stage counterprotests at weekly vigils Wachstein organized in nearby Deerfield. He often dressed like Waldo from the “Where’s Waldo?” puzzle book series, according to Wachstein and photos of the events.

Given Crimo’s activism, she said, she now wonders whether Crimo attacked the community because of its liberal views. “I could just see him thinking it would be great fun to ruin everyone’s holiday,” she said.

Questions about gun laws

The Highland Park attack has exposed what mass shooting experts say is the inadequacy of patchwork state and federal gun laws. Though Illinois has a red-flag law and Highland Park has a local ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, Crimo, of neighboring Highwood, Ill., was able to legally purchase guns in the surrounding area.

Illinois’s red-flag law is meant to prevent individuals from obtaining or possessing a weapon if a court deems them a threat to themselves or others. But officials revealed Tuesday that Crimo had legally obtained weapons less than a year after police had repeated contact with him.

Crimo never had a firearm restraining order taken out against him, and there were no firearms to remove from the home when police responded in September 2019, said Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart (D).

Months later, in December 2019, Crimo applied for a firearm owner’s identification card, the document required to possess a gun in Illinois. Because Crimo was under 21 at the time, state law required him to have the consent of a parent or guardian before he could own a firearm or ammunition.

In a 2021 report, the Illinois auditor general’s office said those who apply for such cards are screened against mental health records, and basic biographical information is verified. Following that, background checks are run through state and federal databases. And if nothing prohibitive pops up, the card is printed up and mailed, the audit said.

Crimo’s father, Robert Crimo Jr., signed the consent form. Greenberg, the attorney for the parents, likened it to a parent consenting to allow a teenager to apply for a driver’s license, which the state must decide whether to issue.

“Ultimately, the state of Illinois permitted him to lawfully purchase all of these weapons,” Greenberg said of the younger Crimo, noting that the permit was renewed by the state when Crimo turned 21.

Greenberg said he is not aware that the suspected gunman had any history of mental health issues.

“I don’t think you can ever make sense of something like this,” he said. “I think the parents are going to try to figure out whatever they missed. They are cooperating with law enforcement to find out what went wrong.”

According to a redacted copy of a Highland Park police report released Wednesday, officers encountered the suspected gunman in September 2019 in response to a call about him threatening violence.

The name of the person who made the call, as well as the home’s address, are redacted in the report, which was released by the Illinois State Police. The person was “afraid to go home” because of the threat and the knives in the suspect’s bedroom, the report said.

When officers responded to the home on Sept. 5, 2019, they spoke to the suspected gunman and his mother, police wrote. Crimo, then 18, “admitted to being depressed” three days earlier “and having a history of drug use,” police wrote, but said he did not feel like harming himself or others.

His father, police wrote, said the knives were his and stored in his son’s closet “for safekeeping.” Police confiscated 16 knives in a tin lunch box, a 24-inch “Samurai type blade” and a foot-long dagger, according to the report.

A few hours later, the report said, Crimo’s father retrieved the items.

That same day, in compliance with state law, local police submitted a “clear and present danger report” to the Illinois State Police that briefly described the encounter. The reporting forms state that such reports should be used to identify people who would pose a danger if they obtain a gun or ammunition. State police said in a statement Wednesday that a reviewing officer “concluded there was insufficient information for a Clear and Present Danger determination.”

Based on publicly available information about the case so far, “it is likely there was nothing they could have looked at to deny him the card,” said Robert Deters, a criminal defense attorney who practices in Lake County and works on gun card appeals. He noted that neither of the 2019 incidents involved either an arrest or an involuntary hospitalization.

“This particular scenario, I’ve never heard of it happening,” he said. “I’ve never had a client come to me and say, ‘I didn’t get a FOID because I once had a clear and present danger report filed.’”

When reviewing Crimo’s firearm application less than six months after the knife confiscation, state police officials once again decided there was nothing they could do to stop a gun purchase.

“The subject was under 21 and the application was sponsored by the subject’s father,” the agency said in a statement. “Therefore, at the time of FOID application review in January of 2020, there was insufficient basis to establish a clear and present danger and deny the FOID application.”

State police said Crimo had passed four federal background checks when purchasing his firearms — on June 9, July 18 and July 31, 2020, and on Sept. 20, 2021.

Rinehart said Wednesday that the United States should renew the federal ban on assault weapons if it wants to curb deadly incidents like the July 4 mass shooting. He stressed there was bipartisan support for the ban, which took effect in 1994 but expired in 2004 when attempts to renew it failed. “Everything shows that these types of horrifying, devastating incidents went down during that time,” Rinehart said.

Berman and Iati reported from Washington. Boburg reported from Kansas City, Mo. Timothy Bella, Paulina Villegas and Praveena Somasundaram in Washington contributed to this report.