Suspect in July 4 parade shooting charged with 7 counts of murder

AFP

The man accused of opening fire on a July Fourth parade near Chicago has been charged with seven counts of murder, as police revealed they had reported him as posing a "clear and present danger" after alleged threats to his family in 2019.

Robert E. Crimo III, 21, is suspected of shooting his victims from a sniper's perch on a rooftop above the parade in the suburb of Highland Park, Illinois.

He would face a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted, Illinois state attorney Eric Reinhart said.

Reinhart said the first-degree murder charges would be followed by "dozens of more charges" and that he would ask that Crimo remain held in custody without bail at the suspect's first court appearance, scheduled for Wednesday.

It was not immediately clear if Crimo had a lawyer.

Crimo had planned the attack for weeks, officials said on Tuesday.

They said he fired more than 70 rounds at random into the crowd watching Monday's parade, and that he was dressed in women's clothes to help conceal his identity and blend in with the panic-stricken crowd as he fled.

"He blended right in with everybody else as they were running around, almost as if he was an innocent spectator as well," said Sergeant Chris Covelli, a spokesperson for the Lake County Sheriff's office, adding that the suspect has distinctive facial tattoos.

In addition to the seven victims killed by gunfire, more than three dozen people were treated in hospitals for gunshot wounds and other injuries.

MISSED SIGNALS

Covelli said Crimo had two previous encounters with law enforcement - an April 2019 emergency-911 call reporting that he had attempted to kill himself and another in September of that year regarding alleged threats "to kill everyone" that he had directed at family members.

Police responding to the second incident seized a collection of 16 knives, a dagger and a sword amassed by Crimo in his home, though no arrest was made as authorities at the time lacked probable cause to take him into custody, Covelli said.

"There were no complaints that were signed by any of the victims," Covelli said.

But a state "red flag" system, designed to allow police to seek a court order to seize weapons from people who are deemed to present a danger to themselves or others, appeared to have broken down.

The suspect used a high-powered rifle for the attack, similar to an AR-15, which he dropped at the scene.

He had a similar rifle in his mother's car, which he was driving when police took him into custody, and owned other guns, all of which were bought legally in Illinois, officials said.

In all, Crimo had purchased five firearms, including rifles and pistols.

'STILL REELING'

Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering said the community of 30,000 was in shock.

"This tragedy should have never arrived at our doorsteps," she told NBC News. "As a small town, everybody knows somebody who was affected by this directly and, of course, we are all still reeling."

President Joe Biden ordered US flags to be flown at half-staff in mourning until sunset on Saturday.

A recent string of deadly mass shootings, including an attack in which 19 school children and two teachers were killed in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, just 10 days after 10 people were slain in a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, has renewed debate about gun safety in America.

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