Highland Park suspect’s dark online history unearthed in wake of shooting

Flag hang at half staff as Highland Park Police Chief Louis Jogmen and Mayor Nancy Rotering look on while Deputy Chief Christopher Covelli, of the Lake County sheriff's office and the Lake County major crimes task force, speaks to the media during a news conference outside the Highland Park Police Department, Tuesday morning, July 5, 2022, in Highland Park, Ill., one day after a gunman killed several people and wounded dozens more by firing a high-powered rifle from a rooftop onto a crowd attending a Fourth of July parade, (Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

The 21-year-old Highwood man accused of killing seven and wounding more than two dozen others during an attack Monday on a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park was an aspiring rap artist whose songs and videos often depicted gun violence and other disturbing themes.

Robert Crimo III was charged Tuesday with seven counts of murder in the shooting that rocked the North Shore suburb Monday morning. He was arrested hours later in Lake Forest after a brief pursuit by police.

The suspect, performing under a stage name, had posted more than a dozen videos to YouTube over the years. They have since been scrubbed from the site. Some videos were still images of the suspect with audio of his songs with titles such as “K.I.A.” and “Counter Terrorist.” But in other videos, he appeared in school settings with military gear or weapons, rapping about nihilistic themes.

Most of those videos had a few thousand views online, but other media outlets reported some of his songs had been streamed more than one million times on Spotify, before the music service yanked them late Monday.

Police recovered several firearms from various locations they said had been bought legally. It was the high-powered rifle left behind atop a business in downtown Highland Park that led authorities to the suspect.

The suspect lived with his uncle, who told Fox 32 News Tuesday that there “had been no warning signs” leading up to the shooting. The suspect’s uncle said they rarely spoke and described him as a “YouTube rapper” and an artist who last worked at a restaurant two years ago and was a “real quiet kid.”

Police had two prior contacts with the suspect, both in 2019.

In April of that year, police were called by a family member who said the suspect had threatened suicide about a week earlier. Cops spoke with him and his parents, but it was a mental health issue and no “law enforcement action” was taken, authorities said.

Then in September, a family member reported the suspect had threatened to “kill everyone,” officials said. Police confiscated 16 knives, a sword and a dagger, authorities said. Family members declined to file a complaint and police determined that without a complaint there was no probable cause for an arrest.

But they did notify Illinois State Police of the incident.

State police Sgt. Delila Garcia confirmed the notification but said the suspect in Monday’s shooting did not have a Firearm Owner’s Identification card at the time, nor had he applied for one, so no action was taken.

Many in the Highland Park area had known the suspect for years, including Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering, who once was the suspect’s Cub Scout leader.

“He was just a little boy,” Rotering said Tuesday during an interview on NBC’s Today Show. “How did somebody become this angry and this hateful to then take it out on innocent people who literally were just having a family day out?”

Investigators said Tuesday they believe the suspect was planning the attack “for several weeks.”

Chris Covelli, deputy chief at the Lake County sheriff’s office, said investigators were poring over the suspect’s online history in an effort to determine what led up to Monday’s attack.

According to investigators, the suspect tried to disguise himself in women’s clothes after the shooting to blend in with the throng of others fleeing the scene. The suspect made it to his mother’s house, where Covelli said he secured her vehicle and fled the area.

Jake Griffin Daily Herald Media Group

Jake Griffin is the assistant managing editor for watchdog reporting at the Daily Herald