At least six dead in shooting at July Fourth parade outside Chicago

Massacre in Highland Park joins other recent mass shootings that have restarted emotional debate over gun control

By Mark Guarino, Susan Berger, Meryl Kornfield, James Bikales and Joby Warrick

Updated July 5, 2022 at 5:03 a.m. EDT
Published July 4, 2022 at 7:27 p.m. EDT

HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. — A gunman perched on a rooftop fired dozens of rounds at spectators at a Fourth of July parade in a Chicago suburb on Monday, killing at least six people and adding yet another name to the list of American towns caught up in a countrywide wave of mass-casualty shootings.

More than 40 additional victims were treated at hospitals after the shooter, described by police as a young man armed with a high-powered rifle, blasted seemingly at random into a crowd gathered to cheer on local marching bands in Highland Park, Ill., a community of about 30,000 people on greater Chicago’s affluent North Shore.

At least two long bursts of rapid gunfire left five people dead at the scene and sent hundreds of people fleeing in panic, leaving a wake of overturned lawn chairs, coolers and strollers. The wounded included young children as well as people in their 80s. One spectator, a father, put his young son in a dumpster for safety as he scrambled to find and shield other family members while bullets rained down.

Eight hours after the shooting, at about 6:30 p.m. local time, police announced the arrest of a “person of interest” and presumed suspect. Police identified the man as 22-year-old Robert E. Crimo III of suburban Chicago. He was apprehended without incident after a police officer spotted his car, a 2010 Honda Fit, on a busy highway in North Chicago. Crimo briefly tried to flee but was caught and then handcuffed facedown on the pavement, according to police and photos by witnesses to the arrest.

Law enforcement officials had described the shooter as a young White man with long black hair and a slim build. A photo of Crimo posted by police depicted a shaggy-haired male with multiple tattoos on his neck and face.

The image matches social media photos of a Bobby Crimo who performs as a Chicago-area rap artist under the name Awake the Rapper. The rapper’s IMDb website describes him as a “hip-hop phenom” from the Chicago area who is a “middle child of three and of Italian descent.” Some of the videos attributed to the rapper depict violent imagery, including a heavily armed shooter entering a school.

Witnesses told of seeing a gunman standing on the roof of a store on the parade route, firing at the crowd with a long gun as if shooting into a cattle pen. Police recovered a rifle at the scene, but, unsure whether the shooter had additional weapons, ordered residents to remain indoors.

The motive remained unclear late Monday. Highland Park, one of the country’s wealthiest towns and the setting for such Hollywood films as “Home Alone,” has large Jewish and Asian communities and a historically low crime rate.

The shooting comes weeks after high-profile, mass-casualty shootings at a Buffalo grocery store, where 10 Black people died and a suspect has been charged with a hate crime, and at an elementary school in Uvalde, Tex., where 19 children and two adults lost their lives.

Both of those events involved 18-year-olds armed with assault-style rifles. So far this year, the United States has recorded more than 250 mass shootings, according to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive.

Those shootings have driven the debate over firearms in the United States to a new level of intensity in recent weeks. Congress late last month passed the first notable gun-control legislation in decades, expanding background checks for some buyers and taking other steps. At the same time, the Supreme Court struck down a New York state law requiring that residents show a special need to carry a weapon.

The occurrence of yet another mass shooting — this one at a gathering celebrating the quintessential American holiday — set off anguish and despair as it added more fuel to the political debate over gun control.

President Biden, in a joint statement with first lady Jill Biden, said he was “shocked by the senseless gun violence that has yet again brought grief to an American community on this Independence Day.” Biden, who just eight days ago signed into law the rare, if modest, congressional package of gun-control measures, said there is “much more work to do.”

Biden also briefly alluded to the shooting during remarks at a White House gathering to celebrate Independence Day with military families. He asked for a moment of silence for the victims of the shootings.

“Six people have passed and others are wounded, but we’ve got a lot more work to do, we’ve got to get this under control,” Biden said. He then repeated, “We’ve got to get this under control.”

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s response was far harsher.

“There are no words for the kind of monster who lies in wait and fires into a crowd of families celebrating a holiday with their community,” Pritzker (D) said. He added: “Prayers alone will not put a stop to the terror of rampant gun violence in our country.”

Opponents of gun control pushed back, denouncing the shooting but rejecting the notion that America’s mass-shooting problem is related to easy access to firearms, including rapid-fire rifles such as the AR-15.

Darren Bailey, the Republican candidate for Illinois governor, posted a video on Facebook about two hours after the shooting, asking supporters to pray for law enforcement and the families of the victims, then return to celebrating the holiday.

“The shooter is still at large, so let’s pray for justice to prevail, and then let’s move on. Let’s celebrate the independence of this nation,” Bailey said in the video, surrounded by supporters holding “Fire Pritzker” signs.

Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) tweeted a reference to a weekend shooting at a shopping mall in the Danish capital of Copenhagen that killed three people. For Denmark, which has strict gun laws, it was the first mass shooting since 2015, when two people were killed and five wounded in a shootout with police. “It’s time to admit that gun laws DO NOT stop mass shootings,” Boebert wrote.

According to police accounts, the Highland Park shooting occurred about 10 a.m. local time, just after the midway point of the parade in the community’s business district. As parade spectators lined the streets, the shooter apparently climbed a ladder attached to one of the buildings along the route.

Despite a heavy police presence at the scene, access to the alleyway where the ladder was located was “unsecure,” Christopher Covelli, a spokesman for the Lake County Major Crime Task Force, said at a news conference.

Cellphone video captured a chaotic scene as the parade was suddenly halted by at least 40 gunshots, all fired within a minute. Police responded quickly and the gunman stopped shooting as officers approached, but he managed to flee the scene.

Lake County Coroner Jennifer Banek said at a news conference that six people were confirmed dead — five adults who died at the scene and one other person who died in a hospital. The age of the victim who died at the hospital was not available, she said.

Highland Park Fire Chief Joe Schrage said crews transported 23 people to hospitals, while others walked into emergency rooms. At least one of those transported was a child in critical condition, he said.

“Crews were on scene very quickly. There were bystanders as well that rendered aid,” Schrage said. “They were quick to tie tourniquets and do bleeding control, which definitely assisted the fire department on scene.”

One witness, Gabriela Martinez-Vicencio, 33, was watching the parade with her 9-year-old daughter, Nina, along Central Avenue near Second Street when she heard a quick succession of pops.

“We thought it was fireworks at first,” she said. “But as soon as I turned to my right-hand side, I looked up and saw a person shooting towards us. He was standing on top of the Ross Cosmetics building, aiming down and firing towards the crowd.”

The gunman appeared to be holding a long gun and the shots came fast. Martinez-Vicencio’s heart began to race, and she felt her legs buckle.

“Everything in me was like ‘Run!’ but my body just betrayed me, and I fell to the ground,” she said.

Quickly recovering, she began looking for her daughter as the crowd panicked. Grabbing Nina, she threw her body over the young girl, trying to shield her as bullets hit the pavement around them. The scene was chaotic, with people running over each other and trying to get to safety. She and her daughter pushed their way into a sporting goods store — what used to be Uncle Dan’s — where Martinez-Vicencio said that she and others who had taken shelter could still hear gunfire.

She clutched her daughter, who was shaking, and called her ex-husband, Nina’s father, who raced to the scene to pick them up. As they waited, Martinez-Vicencio said she kept thinking of other mass shootings, including the one at Robb Elementary in Uvalde. “I never thought it would happen here,” she said.

Another witness, Richard Isenberg, 77, was sitting with his family in a stand along Central Avenue “where we always sit.” When gunfire erupted, the family ran to a nearby shopping center and hunkered down with others. People were running in all directions, he said.

“It’s something you watch on television, but you don’t think you’ll see it in your own life,” Isenberg said. “Fourth of July has always been my favorite holiday of the year. I don’t think that’ll be the way anymore. We’ve come to our last parade.”

Kornfield, Bikales and Warrick reported from Washington.

Lateshia Beachum, Praveena Somasundaram, Gerrit De Vynck and Holly Bailey contributed to this report.

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