July Fourth celebrations in Highland Park, Illinois, end in terror after mass shooting leaves 6 dead and dozens injured

Originally Published: 05 JUL 22 02:36 ET
Updated: 05 JUL 22 03:19 ET

    (CNN) -- A day of national celebration turned to tragedy Monday when a gunman killed six people and injured dozens of others at a July Fourth parade in Highland Park, Illinois -- leaving the nation grieving yet another mass shooting.

The suspected shooter, identified by authorities as Robert E. Crimo III, used a "high-powered rifle" in an attack that appeared to be "random" and "intentional," police said. They believe the shooter, who was apprehended later Monday, climbed onto a rooftop of a business and opened fire on the parade about 20 minutes after it started.

Bystanders initially thought the sound of gunfire that pierced the sunny parade just after 10 a.m. CT along the town's Central Avenue, about 25 miles north of Chicago, was fireworks, until hundreds of attendees started to flee in terror -- abandoning strollers, chairs and American-flag paraphernalia strewn on the streets.

Eyewitnesses described grabbing their children and families and running for their lives, some hiding behind dumpsters or in nearby stores for safety amid the chaos. One parade-goer described seeing a girl shot and killed, another saw a man shot in the ear with blood all over his face.

"It looked like a battle zone, and it's disgusting. It's really disgusting," Zoe Pawelczak, who attended the Independence Day parade with her father, said.

The carnage punctuates an already bloody American spring and summer -- during the past 186 days, there have been more than 300 mass shootings in the US, according to data compiled by the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit tracking such incidents.

"There are no words for the kind of evil that shows up at a public celebration of freedom, hides on a roof and shoots innocent people with an assault rifle, said Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker. "It is devastating that a celebration of America was ripped apart by our uniquely American plague."

Police captured the suspect near Lake Forest, Illinois, following an intense manhunt across the Chicagoland area. He was taken into custody after leading officers on a brief car chase before being stopped.

Firearm evidence was found on the rooftop of a business near the shooting, police commander Chris O'Neill said on Monday. The gunman used a ladder attached to the wall of the building from an alley to access the roof, said Christopher Covelli, spokesperson for the Lake County Major Crime Task Force.

Police said they are investigating who bought the firearm and its origins.

Among the six people killed, five adults died at the scene and one in hospital, according to Lake County Coroner Jennifer Banek. The age of the sixth victim is not yet clear.

A total of 26 patients were received at Highland Park Hospital, said Dr. Brigham Temple, medical director of the NorthShore University Health System. The injured ranged in age from 8 to 85 -- four or five patients were children, Temple said.

He said 19 of the 25 gunshot victims were treated and have been discharged. There were gunshot wounds to extremities as well as more central parts of bodies, he added.

'More needs to be done'

Last year was the worst year on record since the Gun Violence Archive began tracking mass shootings in 2014. There were a total of 692 mass shootings in the US in 2021, the nonprofit says.

The Highland Park attack comes after several recent mass shootings that shocked the nation, including an 18-year-old's racist attack at a New York supermarket that killed 10 and another 18-year-old's shooting at a Texas school that left 19 students and two teachers dead.

In the wake of those massacres, President Joe Biden signed into law the first major federal gun safety legislation in decades, marking a significant bipartisan breakthrough on one of the most contentious policy issues in Washington.

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin said during a visit to Highland Park late Monday that more needed to be done on gun legislation.

"There is no reason for a person to own a military assault weapon. It has no value for hunting, or sports or even self-defense," he said. "It is a killing machine."

What we know about the suspect

Lake County Major Crime Task Force spokesperson Covelli said law enforcement officials "processed a significant amount of digital evidence," which helped lead investigators to identifying Crimo as the suspect.

"This individual is believed to have been responsible for what happened and the investigation will continue. Charges have not been approved yet at this time -- and we are a long way from that," he said.

Crimo, who calls himself "Awake the Rapper," posted online music videos on several major streaming outlets and on a personal website, with some featuring animated scenes of gun violence.

In one video titled "Are you Awake," a cartoon animation of a stick-figure shooter -- resembling Crimo's appearance -- is seen in tactical gear carrying out an attack with a rifle. Crimo is seen narrating, "I need to just do it. It is my destiny."

The suspect's uncle, Paul A. Crimo, told CNN he had spoken at length to law enforcement on Monday and described his nephew as a "lonely, quiet person."

He said he does not know of any political views held by his nephew, though he described him as active on YouTube.

His brother, who is the suspect's father, previously ran for mayor.

"I'm so heartbroken for all the families who lost their lives," Paul Crimo said.

Stories of terror

Witnesses told stories of sheer terror following the shooting in the affluent Chicago suburb.

Miles Zaremski said he heard what he believed to be about 20 to 30 gunshots, in two consecutive spurts of gunfire, at about 10:20 a.m. CT, shortly after the start of the parade. He told CNN he saw a number of people bloodied and on the ground and described the scene as chaotic.

Zoe Pawelczak, who attended the Independence Day parade with her father, said parade-goers initially thought the array of pops were fireworks given the occasion.

"And I was like, something's wrong. I grabbed my dad and started running. All of a sudden everyone behind us started running," she said. "I looked back probably 20 feet away from me. I saw a girl shot and killed."

Jeff Leon and his wife were about to watch their 14-year-old twin boys march in the parade with the high school football team when gunshots broke out.

"We were going to try to get them," Leon said. They then saw a man "who had an obvious extremely deep bullet graze wound along the right side of his head above the temple." Leon said he heard maybe 20 or 30 pops before looking to his right and seeing police movement and people falling.

Steve Tilken told CNN he sheltered in a store basement with his wife, her two grandchildren and dozens of others as police scoured the area for the gunman.

"We were just sitting ducks right there and one bullet could pass through all of our bodies," he said.

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