The identity of the Highland Park shooter, who on Monday killed seven people and wounded at least 38 more at the local Independence Day parade, has especially impacted the mayor, Nancy Rotering. Years ago, when Robert E. “Bobby” Crimo III was still a child, Rotering was his Cub Scout leader, and she says that at the time there was nothing to indicate that a normal kid, like so many others in this affluent suburb of Chicago, would “become this angry, this hateful,” she told NBC’s Today talk show in an interview released on Tuesday.
“He was just a little boy,” said Rotering about the young man, now 21, who has been charged with seven counts of first-degree murder after he climbed on a rooftop with a rifle and fired over 70 rounds into the crowd gathered to watch the parade. According to the police, Crimo had planned the attack for weeks.
His relatives have also described him as a normal boy, if perhaps a little introverted and glued to his computer, where he expressed himself through videos and rap songs on Spotify and YouTube. Yet the virtual manifestations of the amateur rapper reveal a disquieting personality. Lying somewhere between animation and videogames, his videos hinted at sinister events: there were images showing him lying in a pool of blood and surrounded by police, as though staging his own death. In another video, he is in a classroom presided over by a huge American flag, and the young man receives a kind of revelation in the form of flashes while strange rune-like signs flutter across the screen. There is also the representation of a school shooting, and even a beheading in one of his last published videos.
Many of the videos that he posted really reflected a desire to commit murder, said Rotering. YouTube closed his account on Monday night, but some of the videos were still available on social media the next day. In one animation, Crimo, whose stage name was Awake the Rapper, raps about armies “walking in the dark” alongside a drawing of a man pointing a rifle, a body on the ground and another figure with its hands up in the air. Another scene shows a stream of blood spurting from the shooter’s chest, surrounded by police cars.
Crimo’s real-life arrest was more peaceful than his imagination had pictured it: just a police chase in a car, then the young man was tackled to the ground by officers without any resistance. He had left behind the murder weapon and disguised himself as a woman in order to blend into the crowd before driving away in his mother’s Japanese utility vehicle, in which another rifle was found.
Until Monday, Highland Park had only experienced two murders in the last two decades and was one of the quietest towns in Illinois. Crimo’s actions are all the more surprising in a state with the sixth strictest gun control laws in the country and the ninth lowest amount of gun permits.
The mass shooting is the 15th so far this year in the US. In the midst of the national gun violence epidemic, as defined by the White House, this suburb of 30,000 residents north of Chicago was an island of placidity and prosperity: median household income is $150,000 a year, twice the national average; the poverty rate is 5% compared to 11% statewide.