WAUKEGAN, Ill. - Attorneys for Robert E. "Bobby" Crimo III entered a not guilty plea at his arraignment in Lake County Circuit Court on Wednesday after a grand jury indicted him on 117 felony counts for the July Fourth mass shooting in Highland Park that killed seven people and wounded dozens of others.
During the hearing, Judge Victoria Rossetti informed Crimo, 21, of the range of sentences he could face, including natural life if he is convicted of first-degree murder. Manacled at the waist, wearing dark blue jail scrubs and a medical mask, Crimo answered in a clear voice that he understood.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed to return to court Nov. 1 for a case management conference.
Authorities allege Crimo, who grew up in Highland Park, climbed onto a store building and fired more than 80 rounds from an assault-style rifle into the crowd along the city's Independence Day parade route before fleeing in the ensuing chaos.
Police said Crimo disguised himself as a woman and dropped the rifle while escaping.
He was arrested later that day after a police officer spotted him driving in North Chicago. Police have said that after the Highland Park shooting, Crimo drove to the vicinity of Madison, Wisconsin, where he allegedly contemplated attacking another gathering.
Among those in the Waukegan courtroom were Crimo's parents, Robert Crimo Jr., and Denise Pesina. They left the courthouse without comment, but their attorney George Gomez answered questions after the hearing.
"They wanted to show their support for their son," Gomez said when asked why the parents attended. "Obviously, at the end of the day Bobby Crimo III is still the son of my clients."
"They are devastated by what happened on July 4," he said.
Gomez said the parents had no indication Crimo could have committed the violence of which he has been accused. The parents, the attorney said, are cooperating as much as possible with law enforcement.
"The family, at the end of the day, wants to help the community," he said.
Lake County Black Lives Matter President Clyde Mclemore told Gomez he believes Crimo was among a group of Proud Boys who accosted him and other protesters during a 2020 civil rights demonstration in Highland Park.
Gomez, though, said he was not aware of any affiliation between Crimo and the Proud Boys, a right-wing extremist organization.
Months before the shooting, Crimo, an aspiring rapper, posted cryptic and sometimes violent YouTube videos that observers have scrubbed for clues about his political beliefs. The videos showed a symbol of interlocking triangles some have compared to a rune adopted by a Finnish far-right group, but the Southern Poverty Law Center has said its meaning was unclear.
As the court proceedings continue, officials in Highland Park, which bans the possession of assault-style rifles and large-capacity magazines within city limits, are pressing for a similar prohibition at the state level. Numerous legislators are co-sponsoring a bill to that effect and Gov. J.B. Pritzker has endorsed the concept.
Last week, Democratic House Speaker Emanuel "Chris" Welch announced the formation of a working group devoted to firearm safety and reform, saying he wanted "to take a balanced and research-driven approach to meaningfully reform our laws in Illinois."
The state's "red flag" gun laws could be one area ripe for review.
After Highland Park police investigated an allegation that Crimo threatened people at his house, they alerted the Illinois State Police. A state trooper reviewed their report but found no reason to designate Crimo as a clear and present danger, even though the local officers had been concerned enough to confiscate 16 knives, a dagger and a 24-inch samurai sword from Crimo.
Finding that Crimo posed a threat would have barred him from getting the permit needed to legally purchase a gun. When he did apply months later, the record had been destroyed, per the state police interpretation of the clear and present law at the time. He allegedly went on to buy the high-powered rifle used in the Independence Day massacre.
Those and other circumstances around the shooting have prompted activists to call for changes to the state's gun laws. Adding her voice Wednesday was Ashbey Beasley, a Highland Park resident who attended Crimo's hearing. She and her 6-year-old son "ran for their lives" from the parade shooting, she said.
Beasley said some of her friends were wounded in the attack, and that she has traveled to Washington, D.C., three times since July Fourth to meet with legislators to try to help pass legislation banning assault-style rifles like the one used by Crimo.
"I go and I leave my family to do this because this shooter walked into a store and legally purchased his weapon and within a matter of seconds shot off nearly 100 rounds and destroyed families and broke many parts of our community," she said. "And it will happen again if we don't pass a federal assault rifle ban."
(Ward is a special correspondent.)