Highland Park suspect confessed to July 4 massacre, drove to Wisconsin but opted not to open fire there, prosecutors say

Robert Crimo III showed little emotion as a prosecutor read the names of the dead and asked that he be held without bail. The judge agreed.

SHARE Highland Park suspect confessed to July 4 massacre, drove to Wisconsin but opted not to open fire there, prosecutors say
Members of the FBI’s Evidence Response Team Unit investigate in downtown Highland Park after a gunman killed seven people and wounded dozens. Alleged gunman Robert “Bobby” Crimo III, who was arrested later that day about 10 miles from the shooting scene, was ordered held without bond on seven counts of first-degree murder at a court hearing Tuesday.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The man charged with the July 4 massacre in Highland Park has confessed that he fired more than 80 rounds from a rooftop into a crowd of spectators lining the downtown parade route and considered shooting more people in Wisconsin later that day, authorities said Wednesday.

After wounding dozens of people, seven of them fatally, with two rapid bursts from an assault-style rifle, Robert Crimo III fled in his mother’s car and drove to Madison, Lake County officials said.

“He was driving around ... he did see a celebration that was occurring in Madison and he seriously contemplated using the firearm he had in his vehicle to commit another shooting,” Lake County Major Crimes Task Force spokesman Christopher Covelli said.

“We don’t have information to suggest he planned on driving to Madison initially to commit another attack,” Covelli said. “We do believe he was driving around from the first attack and saw the celebration.” 

FBI officials alerted Madison police that Crimo was in the area. Madison Police Chief Shon Barnes said his department mobilized its SWAT team but Crimo was arrested in Lake Forest, about an hour away, before his officers could be deployed.

FBI agents located Crimo’s cellphone at a service station in the Madison suburb of Middleton on Monday, in the dirt at the edge of a parking lot.

Police and prosecutors have so far disclosed no motive for the rampage, but Crimo apparently had an “affinity” for the number 47, which was painted on his car, according to Covelli. Flip the numbers, Covelli said, and you have 7 and 4, the date of the shooting. 

The latest details were made public as Crimo appeared by video conference in a Lake County courtroom, charged with seven counts of first-degree murder.

Wearing a black T-shirt, his face framed by long dark hair, Crimo was mostly silent as he stood with his hands in front of him, showing no reaction when Assistant State’s Attorney Ben Dillon recited the names of the seven victims and described the scene from Monday’s shooting.

On the day of the attack, Crimo dressed in “girls’ clothes” and wore makeup to cover his distinctive face tattoos because he feared he would be recognized, Dillon said. Surveillance video shows Crimo walking down an alley behind a building at the northwest corner of Central Avenue and Second Street and climbing a fire escape to reach the roof.

“The defendant relayed to investigators that he looked down his sights, aimed and opened fire at people across the street,” Dillon said. Crimo said he fired a full 30-round magazine from the rifle, then a second and third magazine. 

Police found 83 shell casings. Nearly 50 people were hit by gunfire. Five died at the scene, and a sixth died later Monday at a hospital. A seventh victim died at Evanston Hospital, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

Despite his disguise, police officers who “were familiar” with Crimo were able to identify him in still images taken from surveillance cameras after the shooting, Dillon said.

Video shows Crimo running down the alley with a black bag over his shoulder. A rifle, a Smith & Wesson M&P15 semi-automatic wrapped in a cloth, fell from the bag as Crimo ran. Police recovered the weapon within minutes and traced it to Crimo, who had purchased the weapon at “a local gun store” in 2020 when he was 19.

Crimo went to his mother’s nearby home and took off in her car as police launched a manhunt and neighboring towns canceled their Independence Day festivities, police said. In Madison, he spotted a group of people and thought about shooting them with a second rifle in the car, Covelli said Wednesday after the bond hearing. 

Crimo had about 60 rounds in the car with him, but he apparently felt he hadn’t put enough “thought and research” into opening fire, Covelli said.

He turned back, dumped his cellphone in Middleton and was finally spotted Monday evening in North Chicago, about eight hours after the shooting. He was arrested around 5:30 p.m. after a brief car chase.

At a press conference in Madison, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway called for state and federal legislators to pass stricter gun laws.

“This time the shooter wreaked havoc in Highland Park and drove to Madison. Next time it could be anywhere,” she said. “On his way here he drove past hundreds of communities celebrating the Fourth of July. All of us are at risk when weapons of war are on our streets.”

Crimo had been able to buy the weapon even though just months earlier police had been called to his house after a family member reported he was threatening to “kill everybody.” Officers removed 16 knives, a dagger and a sword from the home during the September 2019 incident. Police filed a “clear and present danger report” with the Illinois State Police.

In December of that year, Crimo’s father sponsored Crimo’s application for a Firearm Owner Identification card because he was too young to get the license without permission. Crimo was issued a FOID card in January, despite the 2019 report to the state police.

Police seized a total of five firearms, all legally purchased by Crimo, including the alleged murder weapon and the second rifle that Crimo had with him in the car when he was arrested Monday evening after a brief chase that ended in Lake Forest, about 10 miles from the shooting scene.

Crimo was charged on Tuesday as officials began releasing the names of the dead: Katherine Goldstein, 64; Irina McCarthy, 35; Kevin McCarthy, 37; Jacki Sundheim, 63; Stephen Straus, 88, all of Highland Park; and Nicolas Toledo, 78, of Morelos, Mexico. Tuesday morning, Eduardo Uvaldo, 69, of Waukegan, died at Evanston Hospital.

Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart said the investigation remains active and asked for witnesses and anyone with video from the shooting to come forward.

Crimo’s bond hearing began with confusion over who was representing him.

Defense attorney Thomas Durkin — who has represented terrorism suspects imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay — had said Tuesday he would represent Crimo. But on Wednesday, he told Judge Theodore Potkonjak that family members made him aware of a conflict of interest that would prevent him from taking Crimo as a client. 

Assistant Public Defender Gregory Ticsay was appointed to represent Crimo at the hearing, and after a brief conference with his client said he would not immediately oppose the no-bond request from prosecutors.

Crimo’s next court appearance is set for July 28.

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