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Highland Park suspect’s father sponsored gun permit application, police say

Highland Park Police Chief Louis Jogmen and Mayor Nancy Rotering look on as Christopher Covelli, a spokesman for the Lake County Major Crime Task Force, speaks to the media. (Ashlee Rezin /Chicago Sun-Times/AP)
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The Illinois State Police confirmed on Tuesday that the father of the Highland Park parade shooting suspect sponsored his son’s application for a gun permit months after relatives reported that Robert E. Crimo III had threatened to “kill everyone,” and that authorities had “insufficient basis” to deny the application.

The revelation that Crimo, 21, had at least two previous encounters with law enforcement has raised new questions about how he was able to legally purchase his guns and whether more could have been done to prevent the massacre that killed seven people and injured more than 30.

In September 2019, a family member told Highland Park police that Crimo had threatened to “kill everyone,” said Christopher Covelli, a spokesman for the Lake County Major Crime Task Force. Officers visited Crimo’s home and confiscated 16 knives, a dagger and a sword, but made no arrest, Covelli said on Tuesday, because they lacked probable cause. However, they notified Illinois State Police, he said.

Months later, in December, 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. According to state police, which issues the cards, Crimo’s father sponsored the permit application.

On July 5, the Highland Park shooting suspect was charged with seven counts of murder with more charges expected in the coming days. (Video: Neeti Upadhye/Reuters)

State police had received a “clear and present danger report” on Crimo after the September incident, but because at the time he did not have a pending application or an active permit, known as a FOID (Firearm Owner’s Identification) card, the agency ruled there was no action it could take. When reviewing Crimo’s application less than six months later, state police officials once again decided there was nothing they could do — this time, the agency said, because Crimo had a sponsor.

“The subject was under 21 and the application was sponsored by the subject’s father,” Illinois State Police 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.”

Threats from Highland Park suspect drew police attention in 2019

In a subsequent statement, state police said Crimo had passed four federal background checks when purchasing his firearms and said the report from Highland Park police indicated he had told officers that he did not feel like hurting himself or others when they interviewed him in September 2019. At the time, Crimo’s father claimed the seized knives were his, and Highland Park police returned them that afternoon, state police said.

Officials on Tuesday did not say whether police confiscation of knives and other weapons should have been basis enough to deny Crimo’s application.

“Highland Park police notified the Illinois State Police,” Covelli said. “Where it goes from there, I don’t want to speak to it.”

The news comes as police said Crimo had planned the attack for weeks and used a legally purchased military-style weapon in the massacre. Authorities charged Crimo with seven counts of first-degree murder Tuesday but said they have found no definitive motive for the rampage, which has left the Chicago suburb of 30,000 reeling two days after the Independence Day shooting.

Crimo had acquired five firearms in 2020 and 2021, Covelli said, including the semiautomatic rifle he allegedly used to fire more than 70 rounds into the crowds gathered to celebrate the American holiday. He tried to conceal his identity by wearing women’s clothing, police said, and initially eluded capture by blending in with those fleeing the gunfire.

The victims identified by authorities ranged in age from 35 to 88. Some of the victims included Jacki Sundheim, a staff member and preschool teacher at a nearby synagogue; Nicolás Toledo-Zaragoza, a doting grandfather who had recently returned to Highland Park to be closer to family; and Kevin and Irina McCarthy, the parents of a 2-year-old boy.

Highland Park suspect charged with murder as community mourns

Cassie Goldstein told NBC News on Tuesday that she and her mother, Katherine Goldstein, 64, were watching the city’s Fourth of July parade when they heard what they thought were firecrackers being thrown at the street.

“And then I looked up and I saw the shooter shooting down at the kids,” the 22-year-old told anchor Lester Holt. “And I told her that it was a shooter and that she had to run.”

Shortly after they started running, Katherine Goldstein was shot in the chest and hit the pavement, the daughter said.

“I knew she was dead,” Cassie Goldstein told NBC. “I just told her that I loved her, but I couldn’t stop, because he was still shooting everyone next to me.”

A FOID card is required under Illinois law to possess guns. The cards issued by the Illinois State Police require “any qualified applicant” to meet at least 15 requirements listed on the agency’s website.

At a news conference announcing the initial criminal charges against Crimo, Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart said Illinois’s red-flag law, which allows loved ones to ask a court to temporarily remove guns from those deemed violent or threatening, is “very powerful.” Yet the law is rarely used.

“We must vastly increase awareness and education about this red-flag law,” Rinehart said.

In the days following the shooting, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) has vowed to strengthen state laws in an effort to prevent another tragedy like the one in Highland Park.

“Unfortunately, every time a mass shooting occurs it serves as a stark reminder that our gun laws often fall short of the rigorous standards that feel like common sense to most Americans,” the governor said in a statement. “I call on all Illinoisans to learn about and use the Illinois Firearm Restraining Order Act already in law to alert authorities to dangerous individuals with guns. My administration will work with the General Assembly to ensure we take on the gun lobby and do everything we can to further strengthen our gun control and red flag laws.”

Attorney Steve Greenberg, who is representing Crimo’s family, defended the parents in an interview with NewsNation, saying that “they would have acted” if they had seen any red flags that their son was capable of a mass shooting.

“I think the bigger issue here is why is a kid able to get a FOID card and then purchase a military assault weapon?” Greenberg said. “I think that’s a bigger question that we should be asking ourselves. Not whether the family should have sponsored him to get a FOID card when there were no red flags and it was perfectly lawful.”

Critics, however, are demanding answers as to why Crimo’s father sponsored his gun permit application.

“He threatened to kill everyone, his knives were taken away, and 3 months later, his father still co-signed his Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) card, making him eligible to purchase a firearm,” tweeted Joe Walsh, the former GOP congressman from Illinois who has become a vocal critic of former president Donald Trump and his allies in the Republican Party. “His father has some explaining to do.”

Kim Bellware, Mark Berman, Bryan Pietsch, Gerrit De Vynck, Robert Klemko, Joanna Slater, Marisa Iati and Annabelle Timsit contributed to this report.

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