Illinois shooting suspect latest in familiar pattern of disturbed young men leaving bloody trail

Robert Crimo III, an amateur rapper, posted violent imagery online, demonstrated troubling behavior before allegedly opening fire on Fourth of July parade.

Updated: July 5, 2022 - 11:43pm

The suspect in the Fourth of July parade shooting outside Chicago posted disturbing content online before the massacre and had previous encounters with police, continuing a pattern of troubled young men dropping off law enforcement's radar despite expressing violent thoughts and demonstrating erratic behavior before becoming accused mass shooters.

Robert "Bobby" Crimo III was detained by police on Monday hours after a gunman opened fire on parade-goers in Highland Park, Ill., a suburb of Chicago where the community was celebrating Independence Day. Seven people were killed, and dozens more were injured.

Investigators identified Crimo, 21, as a person of interest and took him into custody after an hours-long manhunt. Crimo climbed onto the roof of a building and fired off 70 rounds from a "high-powered," AR-15-style rifle, according to police, who said the suspect purchased the gun legally within the greater Chicago area.

Crimo then fled from the roof, abandoned his rifle, and blended into the chaotic crowd, disguising himself as a woman to evade authorities.

"Crimo was dressed in women's clothing, and investigators do believe he did this to conceal his facial tattoos and his identity," said Lake County Major Crime Task Force spokesman Christopher Covelli in a news briefing. "He was seen on video camera in women's clothing."

Covelli added Crimo planned the shooting for weeks, authorities have yet to identify a motive, and there are no indications anyone else was involved.

On Tuesday, Crimo was charged with seven counts of murder.

An examination of Crimo's history reveals someone who presented disturbing behavior well before the shooting.

In September 2019, the suspect told his family he would "kill everyone," Covelli said Tuesday at a press conference, adding, "The threat was directed at family inside the home."
 
Police were called to Crimo's parents' home, where officers seized 16 knives, a dagger, and a sword that Crimo had stashed there.
 
At the time, he hadn't applied for a firearms license in Illinois, said Covelli. Highland Park police reported Crimo to Illinois state police, but ultimately, no charges were filed. Crimo then dropped off the radar of authorities.
 
The incident occurred about five months after Crimo attempted suicide, according to police, who explained a third party reported the suicide attempt in April 2019 about a week after it happened.
 
These were Crimo's only two encounters with law enforcement before the July Fourth shooting.
 
The middle child of three, Crimo worked at Panera Bread but lost his job two years ago at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. He currently doesn't work, according to his uncle, Paul Crimo.

However, the alleged shooter is an amateur rapper who goes by the stage name "Awake the Rapper." He was a verified artist on Spotify with several albums and EPs uploaded. He also uploaded several videos to YouTube, some of which depicted graphic violence and foreboding lyrics.

One video titled "Are you Awake" shows a cartoon animation of a stick-figure shooter resembling Crimo's appearance wearing tactical gear and carrying out an attack with a rifle. Crimo narrates: "I need to just do it. It is my destiny."

The video for his song "Toy Soldier" features a similar stick figure firing a gun at people and later lying in a pool of blood, surrounded by police officers with their guns drawn.

Multiple videos seem to depict school shootings. One features him rapping in what appears to be a classroom, with the sounds of gunshots and maniacal laughter in the background.

Another shows a young man in a classroom along with cartoons of a gunman and people being shot.

"I need to just do it," a voice-over says over music. "It is my destiny. Everything has led up to this. Nothing can stop me, not even myself. Is there such a thing as free will, or has this been planned out like a cosmic recipe? It is what I've been waiting for in the back of my head, ready to be awakened. It's what I was sent here to do, like a sleepwalker walking steady with my head held high, like a sleepwalker walking blindly into the night."

YouTube and Spotify removed Crimo's content, the companies confirmed Tuesday. Other platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Discord have also taken down his social media pages.

Crimo had his own Discord server, where fans and people who knew him would talk online. In one message, Crimo appeared to reference suicide. The most recent post before the shooting was a picture of Budd Dwyer, the Pennsylvania state treasurer who shot and killed himself on live television in the late 1980s. The caption read, "I wish politicians still gave speeches like this."

Crimo also posted often to a message board that discussed graphic depictions of death, murder, and suicide, according to NBC News, which noted his most recent post to that message board came last week and showed a video of a beheading.

"He always seemed a little off, but I can't describe it much beyond that," someone who went to high school with Crimo told NBC News.

Others in his neighborhood said they didn't see much of Crimo, whose father owns a local deli and ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Highland Park in 2019. His mother was once reportedly arrested on suspicion of domestic battery and, according to her Facebook page, appears to have become a Mormon.

Crimo lived in an apartment behind a house owned by his father in Highwood, a Chicago suburb near Highland Park, according to Paul Crimo, who also lives there. The uncle described his nephew as isolated.

"He's usually on his own," the uncle told CNN. "He's a lonely, quiet person. He keeps everything to himself."

However, the uncle said he never saw signs of a mass shooter in his nephew.

"There were no signs that I saw that would make him do this," said Paul Crimo, who said his last encounter with Bobby on Sunday evening was "normal."

"I saw no signs — nothing," he added in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. "I can't even believe it. I feel sorry for all the families [of the victims]. My heart goes out to them."

It's unclear how much knowledge Paul Crimo had of his nephew's online activity. The two reportedly interacted very little.

Crimo appears to broadly fit the profile of several recent mass shooters: young, male, isolated, emotionally disturbed — and often off the radar of both law enforcement and people in their lives as potential threats to commit mass violence.

Dr. Ira Glick, professor emeritus of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Stanford University Medical Center, recently explained to Just the News that no one had ever conducted a true scientific study on mass shooters until he and a few colleagues did so last year.

Glick's team studied 35 mass shooting cases that occurred in the U.S. between 1982 and 2019, analyzing a wide variety of sources to find that many mass shooters in America suffered from a mental illness that wasn't being treated when they committed their crime.

Specifically, 28 of the 35 had mental illness diagnoses. None of the 28 were medicated or received other treatment for their disorders prior to their crimes.

Glick said it's paramount for families, schools and, others to be aware of what's happening and seek help for such troubled individuals before they potentially turn to violence.

Other experts have argued that while some mass shooters are mentally ill, more are instead emotionally disturbed, angry, and resentful — often in part because of dysfunctional lives.

Either way, many of those accused of such violence have left clues of disturbing thoughts on social media, posting images or videos depicting violence.

While some of these individuals were seemingly motivated by racism or other forms of bigotry, such as the suspect in the shooting in Buffalo in May, authorities say there's no evidence that was the case with Crimo.

However, Highland Park has a large Jewish population, and reports emerged Tuesday that Crimo tried to enter a nearby synagogue on the Jewish holiday of Passover in April but was turned away by the rabbi, who was suspicious.

Rabbi Yosef Schanowitz reportedly recognized Crimo's face when his photo was released to the public in the wake of Monday's shooting.

"During the last Passover holiday, that person entered the Chabad synagogue," Schanowitz was quoted as saying. "We have an armed security guard sitting in front ... I approached him and sternly asked him to leave as I noticed he was not a member of our community."

Jewish facilities have been on high alert amid rising antisemitic attacks in the U.S. Earlier this year, a gunman took four people hostage at a Texas synagogue, and in 2018, a Pittsburgh synagogue was the target of a mass shooting.

Still, there's no evidence that Crimo was motivated by antisemitism, according to investigators.

As the manhunt for Crimo was ongoing, an FBI wanted poster described him as a thin white male with brown eyes and neck-length brown hair, weighing 120 pounds and standing at 5 feet 11 inches tall. The poster also described his tattoos: "four tally marks with a line through them on his right cheek, red roses and green leaves on his neck, and cursive script above his left eyebrow."

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