Illinois’ “red flag” law could have prevented the suspect in the Independence Day parade shooting from buying a gun or at least purchasing the weapon he is accused of using to kill seven people and kill dozens injured, delayed.
Police in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park were called twice to the home of Robert Crimo III in 2019 – once after attempting suicide and again when he allegedly threatened to “kill everyone” in his family. On each occasion, they could have immediately enforced a portion of the law that allowed them to apply for a restraining order to prevent Crimo from buying guns for anywhere from 14 days to six months.
Obtaining such a delay could have bought critical time for police to seek more information to ask a judge for a longer order preventing a gun purchase.
But Highland Park police did not request such an order, and they were not obligated to do so. And just four months after the reported threat that prompted officers to seize 16 knives, a sword and a dagger at Crimo’s home, Illinois State Police approved him for a firearms permit. The agency partially explained the decision by saying that it did not consider it a “clear and present danger” because it did not consider itself such a danger.
“When the police went to the house and asked the individual if he was willing to harm himself or others, he said no,” the state police said in a statement this week, adding “important” that Crimo’s father officers assured that the collection of knives seized. of the house was his and would be stored safely.
That fateful decision in early 2020 to issue the then 19-year-old Crimo a firearms permit allowed him to legally purchase five rifles, including the Smith & Wesson semi-automatic rifle authorities say he used more than 80 from his roof chair to unleash. rounds on a Fourth of July parade below.
The episode highlights how, even in a state with some of the country’s most restrictive gun laws, opportunities can be missed to keep weapons from dangerous and disturbed people. While authorities who have crossed paths with Crimo claim their hands are bound by the law, several people familiar with Illinois’ statutes told The Associated Press there are more than enough ways to stop him from getting guns.
“Laws do not mean much unless they are followed,” said Sean Holihan, the state director for Giffords, a group that promotes gun safety. “It fell through the carpet. The law was written to make sure it would not happen and it still happened. “
Nicholas Suplina, senior vice president for law and policy at Everytown for gun safety, added: “Red flag laws are designed for exactly this kind of situation. … It’s an important tool in the toolbox for preventing gun violence. But you have to take out the tools and use them. ”
One tool Highland Park police did use, they said, was the “clear and current danger” report submitted to the state after their two visits to his home in 2019. Such reports are intended to the state police to warn about people who, if allowed to buy a gun, could pose a “threatening threat of material bodily harm to themselves or others”.
Highland Park police did not respond to requests for comment.
Crimo’s warning signs also included a voluminous and disturbing social media footprint that went back years and somehow escaped law enforcement, despite the aspirant rapper having thousands of followers on YouTube and songs on Spotify totaling millions had plays.
Stick thin, brunette and heavily tattooed on his neck and face, Crimo called the stage name Awake the Rapper and left a trail of clues in his videos of a fascination with violence, guns and suicide. One video titled “Toy Soldier” shows a cartoon character swinging a gun in a city street, followed by drawings of a victim’s chest spraying blood and police cars closing.
In online chat rooms that delighted him in mass murder and filth, Crimo apparently also posted video of a beheading and grainy news material of a politician’s infamous public suicide.
“Like a sleepwalker … I know what I have to do,” Crimo said in another rap video posted late last year. “Everything led to it. Nothing can stop me, even myself. ”
“We were not made aware of these videos,” Christopher Covelli, deputy head of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, told reporters.
In turn, Illinois state police defended the issuance of a gun permit for Crimo, noting that Highland Park police refused to arrest the teenager after his alleged threat in September 2019 because they did not meet the legal impediment of “probable cause” “could not fetch. Refusing a gun permit, they said, requires an even higher legal standard – “balance of evidence” – that it is a clear and present danger.
State police also noted in a statement that although an unidentified family member reported the threat and spoke of a fear of returning home, family members denied that Crimo was dangerous and did not want to make charges.
“When the police went to the house, both the individual and his mother disputed the threat of violence. The individual told the police that he did not feel like hurting himself or others and was offered mental health resources, “reads the statement.
Several months earlier, in April 2019, Crimo had attempted suicide by hijacking, according to a police report obtained by Associated Press that noted a “history of attempts”. Other police reports show that over the years, officers have regularly visited the Crimo House for domestic violence disputes and other incidents.
Several experts have described Crimo as the epitome of a “clear and present danger,” defined under Illinois law as a person “communicating a serious threat of physical violence” or “threatening physical or verbal behavior.”
But others were not so sure and noted that the police are limited in how much they can act when an accused who reports violent threats does not want to file charges and family members do not cooperate.
Even if an order was issued, it is not a given that a judge would have extended the order to more than six months.
Robert Berlin, state attorney for DuPage County, the most active issuer of red flag orders in Illinois, said the dozens of cases he oversaw almost always included family members assisting investigators.
And while Berlin declined to comment on Highland Park police actions, he said he could not recall a red flag order ever issued in his county against someone who was not already in possession of a gun, and was solely aimed at stopping future purchases.
After receiving his permit in January 2020, Crimo passed four background checks when he bought that year and the following firearms, the state police noted, adding that the only offense that has surfaced in its criminal history is a 2016 ordinance. offense was for possession of tobacco.
Crimo, now 21, was arrested after disguising himself in women’s clothing to escape. He is now on trial on seven charges of first-degree murder. While investigators say he admitted to targeting parade attendees, they did not establish a motive.
Katherine Schweit, a retired FBI agent who was at the helm of the agency’s active shooting program, said Crimo’s case underscores how difficult it can be to prevent such shootings, even with many warning signs.
“It’s easy to see in the rearview mirror all the pieces associated with an individual who was clearly on a trajectory to violence,” Schweit said.
“But no one could put it all together. … Police and schools and friends and neighbors handled one tiny piece of this at a time. ”
___ Condon reported from New York and Mustian from New Orleans. New York News Researcher Rhonda Shafner also contributed.