Missed red flags: How the 4th of July suspect slipped into the system

Illinois ‘Red Flag’ law could have prevented Independence Day parade suspect from buying a gun or at least delay purchase of weapon he is accused of using to kill seven people and injure dozens.

Police in suburban Chicago’s Highland Park were called twice to Robert Crimo III’s home in 2019 – once after he attempted suicide and another time when he allegedly threatened to ‘kill everything the world” in his family. Either way, they could have immediately exercised part of the law that allowed them to apply for a restraining order to stop Crimo from buying guns for 14 days to six months.

Obtaining such a delay would have bought the police critical time to obtain more information in order to ask a judge for a longer order preventing the purchase of a firearm.

But Highland Park Police did not seek such an order, nor were they required to do so. And just four months after the reported threat that prompted officers to seize 16 knives, a sword and a dagger from Crimo’s home, Illinois State Police approved him for a firearms license. fire. The agency explained the decision in part by saying it did not consider him a “clear and present danger” because he did not consider himself such a danger.

“When police attended the home and asked the individual if he had any urges to harm himself or others, he said no,” state police said in a statement. statement this week, adding “important” that Crimo’s father had assured officers that the knife collection had been seized. of the house was his and would be stored safely.

Memorial for those killed near the parade scene in Highland Park, Illinois.

Jim Vondruska via Getty Images

That fateful decision in early 2020 to issue the then 19-year-old Crimo a firearms license allowed him to legally purchase five firearms, which Smith & Wesson semi-automatic rifle authorities say he used from his rooftop perch to unleash more than 80 rounds on a 4th of July parade below.

The episode shows how, even in a state with some of the most restrictive gun laws in the nation, opportunities can be missed to keep guns from dangerous and troubled people. While authorities who crossed Crimo’s path say their hands were tied by law, several people familiar with Illinois laws told The Associated Press there were more than enough ways to prevent him from getting guns.

“Laws don’t mean much if they’re not followed,” said Sean Holihan, state legislative director for Giffords, a gun safety advocacy group. “It fell through the cracks. The law was written to make sure that wouldn’t happen and it still does.

Nicholas Suplina, senior vice president of law and policy at Everytown for Gun Safety, added, “Red flag laws are designed precisely for this kind of situation. … It’s an important tool in the gun violence prevention toolbox. But you have to take out the tool and use it.

One tool Highland Park Police made use of, they said, was the “clear and present danger” report filed with the state after their two visits to his home in 2019. These reports are intended to alert the state police of persons who, if permitted to purchase a firearm, may pose an “imminent threat of substantial bodily harm to themselves or others.”

Highland Park Police did not respond to requests for comment.

Crimo’s warning signs also included a disturbingly large social media footprint that dated back years and somehow evaded law enforcement scrutiny despite the aspiring rapper having thousands of subscribers on YouTube and songs on Spotify that collectively had millions of plays.

Slender, dark-haired and heavily tattooed on his neck and face, Crimo went by the name Awake the Rapper and left a trail of clues in his videos of a fascination with violence, guns and suicide. A video titled “Toy Soldier” showed a cartoon character wielding a rifle on a city street, followed by drawings of a victim’s chest spitting blood and police cars closing in.

In online chat rooms that reveled in mass murder and bloodshed, Crimo apparently also posted video of a beheading and grainy news footage of a politician’s infamous public suicide.

“Like a sleepwalker…I know what I have to do,” Crimo shared in another rap video released late last year. “Everything led to this. Nothing can stop me, even myself.

“We have not been made aware of these videos,” Christopher Covelli, deputy chief of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, told reporters.

For their part, Illinois State Police defended issuing a firearms license for Crimo, noting that Highland Park police refused to arrest the teenager after his alleged threat in September 2019 because she could not overcome the legal hurdle of “probable cause”. To deny a firearms license, they said, requires an even higher legal standard – “the preponderance of the evidence” – that he represents a clear and present danger.

State police also noted in a statement that although an unidentified family member reported the threat and expressed fear of returning home, family members denied that Crimo was dangerous and did not want to carry. complaint.

“When the police attended the house, the individual and his mother disputed the threat of violence. The individual told police he had no desire to harm himself or others and was offered mental health resources,” the statement read.

Several months earlier, in April 2019, Crimo had attempted suicide with a machete, according to a police report obtained by the AP that cited a “history of attempts.” Other police reports show that officers have visited Crimo’s home frequently over the years for domestic violence disputes and other incidents.

Several experts have described Crimo as the embodiment of a “clear and present danger”, defined by Illinois law as someone who “communicates a serious threat of physical violence” or “demonstrates threatening physical or verbal behavior”. .

But others weren’t so sure, noting that police are limited in their ability to act when an accuser reporting violent threats is unwilling to press charges and family members are uncooperative.

Even if an order had been issued, it is uncertain whether a judge would have extended the order beyond six months.

Robert Berlin, county attorney for DuPage, the most active issuer of red flag orders in Illinois, said the dozens of cases he has overseen almost always include family members assisting investigators. .

And while Berlin declined to comment on the actions of the Highland Park police, he said he could not recall a red flag order ever being issued in his county against someone who was not already in possession of a firearm and was intended solely to block future purchases.

After receiving his license in January 2020, Crimo passed four background checks when buying firearms that year and next, state police noted, adding that the only offense that made surface in his criminal history was a 2016 ordinance violation for possession of tobacco.

Crimo, now 21, was arrested after dressing up in women’s clothing to get away. He now faces seven counts of first degree murder. While investigators say he confessed to targeting bystanders, they have not determined a motive.

Katherine Schweit, a retired FBI agent who led the agency’s active shooter program, said Crimo’s case highlights how difficult it can be to prevent such shootings, even with many signs. forerunners.

“It’s easy to see in the rearview mirror all the pieces that connect an individual who was clearly on a trajectory toward violence,” Schweit said.

“But no one has managed to put everything in place. … Police, schools, friends and neighbors handled a tiny bit of this at a time.

___ Condon reported from New York and Mustian from New Orleans. News researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York also contributed.


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