Police outline how Highland Park suspect amassed arsenal despite troubling history

Authorities revealed a 21-year-old Highwood man accused of killing seven and wounding more than two dozen others during an attack Monday on a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park had several troubling encounters with police just months before he began amassing multiple firearms.

Robert Crimo III is charged with seven counts of first-degree murder related to the shooting that rocked the North Shore suburb Monday morning. He was taken into custody hours later in Lake Forest after a brief pursuit by police.

Police had two prior contacts with the suspect, both in 2019.

In April of that year, police were called by a family member who said the suspect had threatened suicide about a week earlier. Cops spoke with him and his parents, but it was a mental health issue and no “law enforcement action” was taken, authorities said.

Then in September, a family member reported the suspect had threatened to “kill everyone,” officials said. Police confiscated 16 knives, a sword and a dagger, which Lake County sheriff's office Deputy Chief Chris Covelli said were all the weapons he possessed at the time.

Family members declined to file a complaint. Police determined that without a complaint there was no probable cause for an arrest, but they did notify Illinois State Police of the incident.

State police Sgt. Delila Garcia confirmed the notification but said the suspect in Monday's shooting did not have a Firearm Owner's Identification card at the time, nor had he applied for one, so no action was taken.

State police officials noted the Highland Park Police Department's report to them about the incident.

“Additionally and importantly, the father claimed the knives were his and they were being stored in the individual's closet for safekeeping. Based upon that information, the Highland Park Police returned the knives to the father later that afternoon,” the state police said in a release late Tuesday.

In December 2019, the suspect applied for a FOID card. Because he was only 19 at the time, he was required to have a sponsor, so his father acted in that capacity, state police said.

During the “application review in January of 2020, there was insufficient basis to establish a clear and present danger and deny the FOID application,” the state police said.

State police also noted the suspect passed federal background checks when he purchased firearms on four separate occasions in June 2020, twice in July 2020 and a final time in September 2021.

There were “no mental health prohibitor reports submitted by healthcare facilities or personnel,” either, state police officials said.

The suspect's dark online history has also come to light in the wake of the shooting. The suspect was an aspiring rap artist whose songs and videos he posted on popular social media sites often depicted gun violence and other disturbing themes.

Performing under a stage name, the suspect posted more than a dozen videos to YouTube over the years. They have since been scrubbed from the site. Some videos were still images of the suspect with audio of his songs that had titles such as “K.I.A.” and “Counter Terrorist.” But in other videos, he appeared in school settings with military gear or weapons, rapping about nihilistic themes.

Most of those videos had a few thousand views online, but other media outlets reported some of his songs had been streamed more than 1 million times on Spotify, before the music service yanked them late Monday.

Police recovered several firearms from various locations they said had been bought legally. It was the high-powered rifle left behind atop a business in downtown Highland Park that led authorities to the suspect.

The suspect lived with his uncle, who told Fox 32 News Tuesday that there “had been no warning signs” leading up to the shooting. The suspect's uncle said they rarely spoke and described him as a “YouTube rapper” and an artist who last worked at a restaurant two years ago and was a “real quiet kid.”

Many in the Highland Park area had known the suspect for years, including Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering, who once was the suspect's Cub Scout leader.

“He was just a little boy,” Rotering said Tuesday during an interview on NBC's Today Show. “How did somebody become this angry and this hateful to then take it out on innocent people who literally were just having a family day out?”

Several generations of the family have lived in Highland Park as well. The suspect's father operates a convenience store, and according to election records, he ran unsuccessfully against Rotering in 2019 for the mayor's seat.

Investigators said Tuesday they believe the suspect was planning the attack “for several weeks.”

Covelli said investigators were poring over the suspect's online history in an effort to determine what led to Monday's attack.

According to investigators, the suspect tried to disguise himself in women's clothes after the shooting to blend in with the throng of people fleeing the scene. The suspect made it to his mother's house, where Covelli said he secured her vehicle and fled the area.

There is no indication the suspect confided in his mother about his activities before or after the attack, Covelli said.

• Daily Herald staff writers Doug T. Graham and Charles Keeshan contributed to this report.

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