Highland Park parade mass shooting was planned for weeks, officials say

By Rachel Treisman (NPR)
July 5, 2022 5:47 p.m.
Belongings were left behind at the scene of a mass shooting along the route of a parade in Highland Park, Illinois on Monday.

Belongings were left behind at the scene of a mass shooting along the route of a parade in Highland Park, Illinois on Monday.

Mark Borenstein / Getty Images

Robert “Bobby” Crimo III, who has been identified as a person of interest, preplanned the attack in Highland Park for several weeks, according to Sgt. Christopher Covelli of the Lake County Major Crime Task Force.

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He allegedly brought a high-powered rifle and went onto the roof of a business and fired more than 70 rounds down on people at the July 4th parade. He reportedly wore women’s clothing and possibly a wig to conceal facial tattoos and his identity.

Crimo dropped the rifle and escaped, blending into the crowds, Covelli said. He walked to his mother's house and borrowed a vehicle. There is no indication that Crimo's mother knew what her son was doing. Authorities spotted the 2010 silver Honda Fit driving southbound and conducted a traffic stop.

Inside the car was a second rifle. Both rifles were bought legally by Crimo in Illinois. A trace of the firearm left behind following the shooting was a major investigative lead for authorities.

Police officers recognized Crimo in photos and identified him. Covelli said there are no indications anyone else was involved.

Police first identified Crimo — who is 21 according to the Highland Park Police Department — as a person of interest on Monday. He was taken into custody later that night, after an hourslong manhunt when a police officer pulled him over.

Here's what else we know so far:

He had previously posted violent imagery online

Crimo is an aspiring rapper who goes by the name “Awake the Rapper” and posts music videos on YouTube and other social media platforms.

NPR's Cheryl Corley tells Morning Edition that some of those videos are "ominous and violent," including one that shows a stick figure with an automatic rifle and a person lying in a pool of blood. Another shows a person in a classroom pulling on a tactical helmet and vest and reaching into a backpack.

Those videos have since been taken down, Corley reports.

Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering had previously told NBC that she doesn’t believe the suspect was previously known to police, but that several of his online posts “reflected a plan and a desire to commit carnage for a long time in advance.”

She also said she knew him when he was a Cub Scout and she was the Cub Scout leader.

His family is known in the community, according to Corley. His father runs a convenience store in the area and ran for mayor of Highland Park in 2019, losing to Rotering by more than a 2-to-1 margin.

He was taken into custody after a police chase

Crimo, then a person of interest, was taken into custody some eight hours after the shooting took place.

Highland Park Police Chief Lou Jogmen said at a Monday evening briefing that an officer spotted him driving a silver Honda Fit in north Chicago and pulled him over in a traffic stop. The man tried to flee but the officer called in backup and, after a brief pursuit, apprehended him without incident.

Rotering told Morning Edition that she understands the suspect was able to elude police for so long by "driving all over the place."

"I think they were able to get to him at some point with the unbelievable collaboration of several agencies, municipal police departments, the FBI, the ATF, the Illinois State Police," she added.

Notably, Monday's shooting came in the wake of high-profile mass shootings in New York and Texas, and as outrage continued to build over the police killing of 25-year-old Jayland Walker in Akron, Ohio, last week.

Speaking to Morning Edition about that case on Tuesday, Brookings Institution fellow Rashawn Ray drew a distinction between the way that police apprehended Walker, who is Black, and white criminal suspects like Crimo.

"The important point is that Jayland Walker was unarmed at the time that he was killed, and a lot of people consider that to be overkill, compared to a white man who recently killed police officers, compared to just yesterday on Independence Day, a person who shoots into a crowd of people, kills people and is apprehended peacefully," he said.

An armed law enforcment officer patrols the scene of the July 4th parade shooting in Highland Park, Illinois on Monday.

An armed law enforcment officer patrols the scene of the July 4th parade shooting in Highland Park, Illinois on Monday.

Youngrae Kim / AFP via Getty Images

The majority of those injured were treated for gunshot wounds

Those who were wounded in Monday's shooting ranged in age from 8 to 85 years old, including four or five children.

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Member station WBEZ reports that dozens of people were taken to several area hospitals, and that while the vast majority were treated for gunshot wounds, some suffered injuries while escaping the chaotic scene.

Dr. Brigham Temple of Highland Park Hospital said that 25 of the 26 people treated there were gunshot victims, and that 19 of them had been treated and released.

Highland Park Fire Chief Joe Schrage has said that crews on the scene responded quickly, and witnesses helped tie tourniquets.

Details are emerging about the victims

Five of the six victims in the attack were adults who died at the scene, according to Lake County Coroner Jennifer Banek, and the sixth victim died at a local hospital.

Some have been publicly identified by their loved ones.

Those include Nicolas Toledo, who came from Mexico several months ago to stay with his family. His granddaughter, Xochil Toledo, told WBEZ that they had been enjoying the parade when bullets started raining toward them.

Three of them struck her grandfather. Another hit her father in the arm as he was trying to shield him. Her boyfriend was shot in the back as he tried to run away.

"He was the one who saved all of our lives," she said of her grandfather. "It would have gone to me, my boyfriend or my cousins."

The family has created a GoFundMe page to raise money for funeral expenses. The fundraiser honors the "father of eight and grandfather to many" as loving, creative, adventurous and funny.

"As a family we are broken, and numb," they wrote. "Our condolences go out to all the other families who lost a [loved] one today."

North Shore Congregation Israel announced in a statement that one of the victims was Jacki Sundheim, whom it described as a lifelong congregant and a longtime member of their staff.

"Jacki's work, kindness and warmth touched us all, from her early days teaching at the Gates of Learning Preschool to guiding innumerable among us through life's moments of joy and sorrow as our Events and B'nei Mitzvah Coordinator — all of this with tireless dedication," the synagogue wrote.

It added that "there are no words sufficient to express the depth of our grief for Jacki's death and sympathy for her family and loved ones."

Police detained a suspect in connection with Monday's parade shooting, the aftermath of which is pictured here.

Police detained a suspect in connection with Monday's parade shooting, the aftermath of which is pictured here.

Mark Borenstein / Getty Images

Witness describe the chaotic scene

Monday's July 4th parade was the suburb's first since before the pandemic. The scene quickly turned to one of fear and panic when the shooter began firing around 10:14 a.m. local time, according to authorities.

It's not clear exactly how many shots were fired, but several witnesses say they heard 20 to 25 shots in rapid succession.

Jessica Antes, one of the emcees of the parade, tells Morning Edition that it took a moment for people to realize what was happening.

"We were like 10, 15 minutes into it, and literally my co-host Ryan and I we looked at each other were like: that's got to be fireworks right? Somebody setting off fireworks,'" she recalls. "And then we saw just people just scattering and screaming."

Miles Zaremski also told NPR that he initially mistook the gunshots for a car backfiring or fireworks. Then came the stampede.

"And then I gingerly went a little bit forward, and all of a sudden I see blood on the cement, he said. "And I see individuals in pools of blood ... and I knew there was a mass shooting."

Alexander Sandoval, who had gone to the parade with his family and their dog, told NPR it was a terrifying day.

"I put my son and little brother and the puppy in the garbage dumpster, and ran back to look for my partner and I saw people on the ground shot," Sandoval recalled. "And all I wanted to do was get my phone, call, make sure we'd get reunited and get out of there."

The holiday saw half a dozen mass shootings

The incident at the Highland Park parade was one of several mass shootings that took place across the country on the 4th of July.

According to a tracker from the Gun Violence Archive, one person was killed and a total of 18 injured in five other mass shootings in Massachusetts, California, Missouri, Virginia and Chicago.

The nonprofit defines mass shootings as incidents in which a minimum of four victims (excluding the shooter) are shot and either injured or killed. By their count, there have already been 314 mass shootings in the U.S. this year.

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