The man accused of opening fire with a rifle from a rooftop onto a crowd of people watching a Fourth of July parade in a Chicago suburb, turning the holiday celebration into another national tragedy, was charged on Tuesday with seven counts of first-degree murder.
If convicted, the suspect, 21-year-old Robert E. Crimo III, would face a maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole, Illinois states attorney Eric Reinhart said in announcing the charges at a news conference.
Reinhart said the first-degree murder charges would be followed by dozens of additional charges before the investigation is over. The prosecutor said he would ask that Crimo remain held in custody without bail at the suspect’s first court appearance, scheduled for Wednesday.
It was not immediately clear if Crimo had a lawyer.
Authorities said Crimo 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.
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 a disguise to blend in with the panic-stricken crowd, authorities said on Tuesday.
In addition to the seven people killed in the gunfire, the attack sent more than three dozen other people to area hospitals for treatment of gunshot wounds and other injuries, authorities said.
After fleeing the scene, the suspect drove to Wisconsin and back to Illinois before he was pulled over and arrested later on Monday, according to Sergeant Chris Covelli, a spokesperson for the Lake County Sheriff’s office.
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 apparently tried to conceal his identity on Monday 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 neighbourhood 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.
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 U.S. flags to be flown at half-staff in mourning until sunset on Saturday.
The U.S. 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 Black people were slain in a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, has renewed U.S. 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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