Highland Park shooter: Former classmates and acquaintances of Robert Crimo III recall signs of unrest

HIGHLAND PARK — Growing up in Highland Park, where kids are usually expected to go to college and often beyond, Robert E. Crimo III stood out, according to people who knew him.

The video featured is from a previous report.

Crimo, 21, who is accused of killing seven people and injuring dozens more in a mass shooting during the suburban 4th of July parade, dropped out of Highland Park High School before his first year .

Then he disappeared from the lives of the children he had met in the halls of the school of 2,000 students.

“Seeing him in the hallways, I thought he was a little scary,” said Ethan Absler, 22, who was a grade past Crimo and recently graduated from the University of Missouri and works for USA Network.

“When he left Highland Park High School, he went off people’s radar,” Absler says. “The red flags he was posting on social media went unnoticed because he wasn’t connected to a lot of people at school.”

Looking back, it’s easy to spot the warning signs that he was troubled.

He bought military-style guns at a young age and uploaded videos of bloody, animated gunfights.

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Playing the role of Awake the Rapper, he released music videos with violent and bloody footage and one that shows him with a newspaper with a story about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald.

His appearance also made him stand out. Police say he’s 5-11 and 120 pounds. His videos and photos, including the police mugshot taken after his arrest, show tattoos on his face and neck.

Police records and interviews with people who knew Crimo paint a picture of a troubled young man who grew up in a troubled home.

Called regularly at the family home for trouble between his parents, who were calling the police on each other, officers took note of Crimo, describing him in their reports as having suicidal thoughts, threatening to kill his family, “kill everyone, ” smoke marijuana.

RELATED: Police say prior contact with Crimo family included concerns of ‘clear and present danger’

He has a brother and a sister. His page on the IMDb website for performers says he is the second of three children. They are not mentioned in police reports of their home visits.

In 2002, when Crimo was not yet 2 years old, his mother Denise Pesina left him unattended in a car with the windows rolled up on a hot August day for almost half an hour in a parking lot in Highland. Park, according to court records. She pleaded guilty to a charge of child endangerment and was ordered to undergo an evaluation at a child advocacy center, records show.

Pesina could not be reached. Crimo’s father, Robert Crimo Jr., who owned Bob’s Pantry & Deli in Highland Park and once ran for mayor of the suburb, couldn’t either.

Police officers visited Crimos’ Highland Park home nearly 20 times between 2009 and 2014, records show. Nine calls were for reports of domestic violence, although no arrests were made.

Once, in 2010, Crimo’s father told police that his wife hit him in the arm with a screwdriver. He later retracted the accusation. No charges have been filed.

Often, police reports show, alcohol seems to be involved in the couple’s difficulties. In their reports, officers said they recommended either going to marriage counseling or separating. They no longer live together.

Jeremy Cahnmann ran an after-school sports program at Lincoln Elementary School in Highland Park and remembers the Crimo family.

RELATED: Highland Park Parade Shooting Suspect Robert Crimo III Charged with 7 Counts of Murder

“Bobby was part of my Nerf football program and maybe others,” Cahnmann said. “He and his brother were average athletes and didn’t cause much trouble.

“What stood out was that almost every day after the program ended, these children were the last to wait for their parents to pick them up,” he says. “It was a problem because a school faculty adviser couldn’t go home until all the children were picked up.

“Look, I come from a messy family,” Cahnmann says. “We all have our skeletons in the closet. But the amount of red flags in this case were there for the parents to see, and they ignored and ignored them.”

Michele Rebollar says her sons were friends with Crimo for a while as teenagers. She remembers him sitting on a couch at their house and not talking to anyone.

One of his sons became friends with him in eighth or ninth grade, she says, but became friends with others and grew distant from Crimo.

Later, Crimo befriended his late son Anthony LaPorte, who was five years older. Rebollar says she only learned of the friendship at her son’s funeral in 2017 following a drug overdose.

“They were together at night, walking and talking and hanging out in Anthony’s room,” she says.

She says she learned that her son had become a sounding board for Crimo during late-night talks.

But Rebollar and his other sons did not stay in contact with Crimo after the funeral.

In April 2019, when Crimo was 18, officers from Highland Park were called to the family’s home after a call said he had “attempted to kill himself with a machete”. The incident was “treated last week by mental health professionals”, according to a police report also stating that “Bobby is known to use marijuana” and “has a history of attempts”.

In September 2019, police said they were called home after Crimo threatened to “kill everyone”. Police confiscated a 12-inch dagger, a “24-inch samurai type blade” and a box of 16 hand knives. But they returned them to Crimo’s father, who said he told them they were his. Crimo and his mother have denied threatening anyone and no arrests have been made.

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But officers have filed a ‘clear and present danger’ report with the Illinois State Police, which is what police and teachers are required to do when they believe someone poses a threat to the public and should not be allowed to have a firearm.

Months later, Crimo’s father signed a consent form in 2019 that his underage son was to obtain a state gun owner ID card that would allow him to legally purchase firearms .

In January 2020, the State Police authorized Crimo III to obtain the FOID card.

The state police director says there was no basis under law to deny him the card and no evidence that Crimo posed a threat to the public.

The following month, February 2020, using the Highwood address of the house where he was then living, Crimo went to a Chicago-area gun store and purchased the Smith & Wesson M&P15 semi-automatic rifle that , according to police, was used in the Fourth of July Massacre.

Authorities say he also purchased four other weapons: a Remington 700 bolt-action rifle, a Kel-Tec Sub 2000 collapsible rifle, a shotgun and a Glock handgun.

The M&P15 – the initials stand for military and police, according to the manufacturer – was fired more than 80 times at parade-goers as tanks and marching bands marched through the streets of downtown Highland Park on Monday, authorities said.

Although Crimo’s father provided the parental signature his son needed to purchase the military-style rifle, he was quoted in an interview with the New York Post as saying he takes no responsibility for the shooting of the July 4 in Highland Park, what prosecutors said. his son confessed.

The story also quotes the father saying he spoke with his son on July 3 about a mass shooting that day in Denmark in which a 22-year-old man was accused of shooting and killing three people in the largest mall in this country.

“He goes, ‘Yeah, that guy’s an idiot. That’s what he said!” the newspaper quoted Crimo’s father recalling his son had spoken about the Danish shooter.

He also reported that the father said his son told him that “people like this ‘commit mass shootings’ to amplify people who want to ban all guns.”

Absler remembers having a first period of physical education with Crimo at Highland Park High School.

RELATED: Illinois Red Flag Gun Laws: How the Highland Park Parade Shooter Slipped Through the Cracks

“He was reserved, mysterious,” he says. “My friends said he was constantly promoting his rap career. He put stickers promoting his music everywhere. It was an animated image of himself. He didn’t do his homework, didn’t didn’t listen to the teachers. When a teacher spoke to him, he pretended not to hear him. He was in his own world.

Absler says he knew two of those killed in the July 4 massacre: Jacki Sundheim, who was his teacher at the former Gates of Learning in Highland Park, and Katherine Goldstein, the mother of one of his classmates at high school.

“It’s such a tight-knit community,” he says. “Everyone knows someone who was shot.

“There was nothing to me that indicated he was angry or violent or capable of that,” he says.

Even with the Crimo story, it’s not like Absler or anyone else could have predicted that he would ever be charged with mass murder, experts say.

“We don’t really know how to predict mass shootings, and we don’t really have a shooter profile, what the characteristics are. They’re shared by millions of people,” says Laura Wilson, associate professor of psychology at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia. “There are no clear features that we can say for sure is the mold.”

A recent Secret Service study found that rampaging shooters often inform family or friends of their plans.

RELATED: Community aims to turn pain into purpose, anger into activism following Highland Park shooting

“The main thing we look for and listen to is people saying they’re going to do something like this in the future,” Wilson said. “Clinical psychologists talk about it in terms of ‘leakage,’ where people start posting things on social media, mention things in passing. It can be vague things.

“But you can listen and identify patterns, connect the dots that they hint that they’re going to do something.”

Absler says that after Crimo dropped out of high school, he never thought of him again – until he saw his picture in the news stories about the murders.

“I’ve always been passionate about gun safety,” he says. “But it took me literally coming to my hometown and shooting my friends for me to realize this isn’t just a headline, and people’s lives are changed forever.”

Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from the Chicago Community Trust.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire – Copyright Chicago Sun-Times 2022.)

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