Illinois State Police director defends decision to give suspected Highland Park killer a gun permit in 2020

Brendan Kelly said there was no evidence of a “clear and present danger” that could have supported denying Robert E. Crimo III’s request.

Law enforcement officials on the scene in Highland Park on Tuesday after a mass shooting happened in the city’s downtown area during Monday’s Fourth of July parade.
Law enforcement officials on the scene in Highland Park on Tuesday after a mass shooting happened in the city's downtown area during Monday's Fourth of July parade. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ
Law enforcement officials on the scene in Highland Park on Tuesday after a mass shooting happened in the city’s downtown area during Monday’s Fourth of July parade.
Law enforcement officials on the scene in Highland Park on Tuesday after a mass shooting happened in the city's downtown area during Monday's Fourth of July parade. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

Illinois State Police director defends decision to give suspected Highland Park killer a gun permit in 2020

Brendan Kelly said there was no evidence of a “clear and present danger” that could have supported denying Robert E. Crimo III’s request.

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The director of the Illinois State Police said Wednesday there wasn’t enough evidence nearly three years ago that Robert E. Crimo III — who’s now accused of killing seven people at Highland Park’s Fourth of July parade — should have been denied a state firearm permit over a report of violent threats to his family.

The state police approved Crimo III’s request for a firearm owner’s identification card in January 2020.

The next month, he bought the Smith & Wesson M&P15 semiautomatic rifle authorities say he used in the Independence Day mass shooting, Brandon Kelly, director of the Illinois State Police, said Wednesday.

On Sept. 5, 2019, the Highland Park Police Department visited Crimo’s home after getting a report he’d threatened to “kill everybody.”

But he and his mother denied that, and Crimo wasn’t arrested.

Police seized a “12-inch dagger,” a box of 16 hand knives and a “24-inch samurai-type blade” from Crimo’s bedroom then, but his father said they were his, and the police returned them to him, officials said.

Still, Highland Park officers sent the Illinois State Police a “clear and present danger” report, saying Crimo admitted having a history of drug use and “to being depressed when statements were made.”

Police and teachers are required by law to file such reports when a “student or other person” exhibits dangerous behavior that should bar them from having a gun.

There were no other factors that could have kept Crimo from getting a FOID card —for instance, he wasn’t the subject of a domestic violence order or a court order restraining him from having a gun, Kelly said at a news conference Wednesday.

So there was “insufficient basis” to deny Crimo’s request for a FOID card, he said.

Asked whether Illinois’ firearm ownership laws need to be strengthened, Kelly said that’s up to legislators but urged the public to report behavior that should disqualify someone from having a gun.

“Private people can use the firearm restraining order,” he said.

Kelly said he wouldn’t speculate on what was “going through the mind” of Crimo’s father, who in December 2019 — months after Crimo’s reported threats — signed a form giving his son the adult consent he needed as a minor to apply for a FOID card. Crimo was 19 then.

“I can only speak from the perspective as a citizen and as a father that we all have a duty, we all have an obligation, we all have to be mindful of the safety of others, and sometimes that requires some difficult things as a parent,” Kelly said.

The gun used in Monday’s mass shooting was an AR-15-style Smith & Wesson semiautomatic rifle whose initials, M&P, stand for military and police. A Lake County prosecutor identified the make and model of the firearm at a court hearing Wednesday for Crimo, 21, who was ordered held without bail on murder charges.

Authorities said Crimo fired a 30-round magazine, then fired two more. Police found 83 shell casings.

Crimo used his FOID card to buy firearms five times in 2020 and 2021, including the M&P15 rifle in February 2020, authorities said.

Under the law, he didn’t need to renew his card until 2030, officials said.

Police said they recovered the M&P15 rifle in downtown Highland Park and another rifle in a car that Crimo was stopped in hours later on U.S. 41. He also owned three handguns, authorities said.

The Lake County Major Crime Task Force on Wednesday released a photo of a gun that was found in Crimo’s vehicle Monday.

On Wednesday, attorney Steve Greenberg, representing Crimo’s parents, said the father’s consenting to his son getting a FOID card was “no different than signing up your kid for driver’s ed.”

Greenberg said Crimo’s father, former Highland Park restaurant owner and onetime mayoral candidate Bob Crimo Jr., should in no way be blamed for the killings.

“No one thought there was any issue, including the police,” Greenberg said. “I think everybody across the board missed whatever warning signs were there —the police, the teachers, the friends, the family, everybody.”

On the day of the shootings, before Greenberg was hired to represent Crimo’s family, he tweeted, “This is my hometown where I grew up and raised my kids. WTF is wrong with people. No one needs these high powered weapons!!!!!”

On Wednesday, Greenberg said, “Nobody should be able to buy these weapons.”

But he said Crimo’s parents “never helped him to buy a single weapon. They just consented to him getting a card.”

A spokeswoman for Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Wednesday that “we will once again review everything we know about this gunman in the context of our laws and determine what more we can do to continue our public safety work,” including doing “everything we can to strengthen our gun safety and ‘red flag’ laws.”

The use of a semiautomatic rifle in the Independence Day mass shootings also has renewed calls from Vice President Kamala Harris and other Democratic Party leaders for Congress to pass a new ban on semiautomatic rifles, citing their use in numerous killings in recent years including the Uvalde, Texas, school massacre.

The 1994 Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, commonly referred to as the federal assault weapons ban, was allowed to expire in 2004 under a “sunset” provision during President George W. Bush’s administration.

Contributing: Tina Sfondeles