The man charged with killing seven people at a Fourth of July parade in suburban Chicago confessed to police that he unleashed a hail of bullets from a rooftop and then fled to a neighbouring state, where he contemplated shooting up an event there, authorities said Wednesday.
The gunman turned back to Illinois, where he was later arrested, after deciding he was not prepared to pull off a shooting in the Madison area of Wisconsin, Lake County Major Crime Task Force spokesperson Christopher Covelli said at a news conference following a bond hearing.
An Illinois judge ordered that the suspect be held without bail.
Speaking in court, Lake County assistant state attorney Ben Dillon said that the gunman “looked down his sights, aimed” and fired at people across the street, killing seven and wounding more than two dozen. He left the shells of 83 bullets and three ammunition magazines on the rooftop.
The parade shooting left another U.S. community — this time the affluent Highland Park, home to about 30,000, near the Lake Michigan shore — reeling. Hundreds of marchers, parents and children fled in a panic.
Some of the wounded remain in critical condition, Covelli said, noting the death toll could still rise.
Firearms bought after suicide threat: police
Questions also arose about how the suspect could have skirted Illinois’s relatively strict gun laws to legally purchase five weapons, including the high-powered rifle used in the shooting, despite authorities being called to his home twice in 2019 for threats of violence and suicide.
Police went to the home in September 2019 following a call from a family member who said Robert E. Crimo III was threatening “to kill everyone” there. Covelli said police confiscated 16 knives, a dagger and a sword, but said there was no sign he had any guns at the time.
Police in April 2019 also responded to a reported suicide attempt by the suspect, Covelli said.
Crimo legally purchased the rifle that police say was used in the attack in Illinois within the past year, according to Covelli. In all, police said, he purchased five firearms, which were recovered by officers at his father’s home.
Illinois state police, who issue gun owners’ licences, said Crimo applied for a licence in December 2019, when he was 19. His father sponsored his application.
At the time, “there was insufficient basis to establish a clear and present danger” and deny the application, state police said in a statement.
Investigators who have interrogated the suspect and reviewed his social media posts have not determined a motive or found any indication that he targeted victims by race, religion or other protected status, Covelli said.
At the Fourth of July parade, the shots were initially mistaken for fireworks before hundreds of revellers fled in terror. A day later, baby strollers, lawn chairs and other items left behind by panicked parade goers remained inside a wide police perimeter. Outside the police tape, some residents drove up to collect blankets and chairs they abandoned.
The shooting occurred at a spot on the parade route where many residents had staked out prime viewing points early in the day, including two of the victims who died, 78-year-old Nicolas Toledo, who was visiting his family in Illinois from Mexico, and 63-year-old teacher Jacki Sundheim.
PHOTOS | Community gathers for vigil to honour shooting victims:
Nine people, ranging from 14 to 70, remained hospitalized Tuesday, hospital officials said.
The gunman initially evaded capture by dressing as a woman and blending into the fleeing crowd, Covelli said.
A police officer pulled over Crimo, 21, north of the shooting scene several hours after police released his photo and warned that he was likely armed and dangerous, said Highland Park Police Chief Lou Jogmen.
In 2013, Highland Park officials approved a ban on semi-automatic weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines. A local doctor and the Illinois State Rifle Association quickly challenged the liberal suburb’s stance. The legal fight ended at the U.S. Supreme Court’s doorstep in 2015, when justices declined to hear the case and let the suburb’s restrictions remain in place.
Difficult to block gun sales based on mental state
Under Illinois law, gun purchases can be denied to people convicted of felonies, addicted to narcotics or those deemed capable of harming themselves or others. But under the law, who that last provision applies to must be decided by “a court, board, commission or other legal authority.”
Illinois has a so-called red flag law designed to stop dangerous people before they kill, but it requires family members, relatives, roommates or police to ask a judge to order guns seized.
Crimo, who goes by the name Bobby, was an aspiring rapper with the stage name Awake the Rapper, posting dozens of videos and songs on social media, some ominous and violent.
Federal agents were reviewing Crimo’s online profiles, and a preliminary examination of his internet history indicated that he had researched mass killings and had downloaded multiple photos depicting violent acts, a law enforcement official said.
The official could not discuss details of the investigation publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.