The alleged shooter who attacked an Independence Day parade in Highland Park, Illinois, and then drove to Madison “seriously contemplated” attacking a celebration in Madison on the same day, police said.
Robert Crimo III, who police say killed seven people and injured more than 30 in the Illinois shooting, came to Madison shortly after the shooting before driving back to Illinois, where police apprehended him, Christopher Covelli, a spokesperson for the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, said Tuesday. At the time, police said, Crimo had a .40-caliber folding rifle and 60 rounds of ammunition in his car.
On Wednesday, Covelli said it wasn’t clear why Crimo drove to the Madison area, but while there “he did see a celebration that was occurring in Madison and he seriously contemplated using the firearm he had in his vehicle to commit another shooting.” The gunman ultimately decided against it because he “didn’t put enough thought and research into it,” Covelli said.
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“We are deeply troubled to learn the suspected Illinois parade shooter considered carrying out another attack here in Madison,” Madison Police Chief Shon Barnes said. “We feel for the grieving families in Highland Park and all those forever impacted by the events of Monday’s shooting. We recognize tragedy very well could have taken place in our own community. That reality is upsetting to all of us here in Madison, including the members of the Madison Police Department.”
Informed by the FBI that Crimo could be in the Madison area, the department began to mobilize its SWAT team but stood down after learning the suspect, whose name Barnes pointedly said he would not utter, had been arrested in Illinois.
Police in Illinois did not specify which event in Madison Crimo considered attacking.
A number of celebrations took place in the Madison area on Monday. In Madison, Tribute to the Troops, a patriotic concert performed by the Capitol City Band, took place at Rennebohm Park, but inclement weather led organizers to cancel Fourth Fest 2022, a celebration at The Edgewater hotel. Monona’s annual three-day Community Festival at Winnequah Park continued through Monday. And in Shorewood Hills, celebrations stretched from 8:30 a.m. to sunset, including a parade.
Madison’s largest organized Independence Day celebration, Festival Foods Lights the Isthmus event at Breese Stevens Field, took place Saturday, two days before the shooting.
Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said the incident highlighted the need for federal action.
“Weapons of war have no place in our community,” she said. “This time the shooter wracked havoc in Highland Park and drove to Madison. Next time, it could be anywhere. On his way here he drove past hundreds of communities celebrating the Fourth of July. All of us are at risk when weapons of war are on our streets.”
Rhodes-Conway said Madison is working to “control illegal guns, hold people accountable for gun violence and invest in violence interruption and prevention” — but added the city “cannot do this alone” and called upon Congress to instate a “ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines.”
Phone left in Middleton
During his trip to the Madison area, Crimo left his cellphone behind in the 6500 block of University Avenue in Middleton, Covelli said. Police have recovered the device, and the FBI is examining it, authorities said.
“I’m glad he was caught, and my sympathies to everyone who was impacted,” said Shorewood Hills Village President David Benforado, who helped organize celebrations in that village, which is bordered by University Avenue. “People should be free to partake in regular, everyday community events like July 4th activities without the threat of someone killing them with an assault weapon.”
Shorewood Hills will look at its security measures for Independence Day celebrations over the next year, Benforado said. In the interim, he echoed Rhodes-Conway and urged Congress to reinstate the federal assault weapons ban that stood in place from 1994 to 2004.
At the Monona Community Festival, organizers and police had been in “constant contact” throughout the day Monday, said Eric Redding, the festival president.
While the festival always works with the city and its police department and plans for a number of contingencies, Redding said organizers became “hypervigilant” after news of the Highland Park shooting emerged.
“We live in the neighborhood in the grand scheme of things,” Redding said. “Learning after the fact that he was (in Madison), I’m glad that law enforcement and everyone was thinking like that … We felt as safe as possible because of that close relationship.”
The incident marked the first serious security scare the festival has ever faced, Redding said. Over the next year, organizers will look at extra precautions for the 2023 festival, he said.
“It was definitely a little scary,” he said. “These one-off situations that you hope never come around but you want to make sure are planned for … I’m thankful that we spent the time to plan.”
News of the shooting in Highland Park reached James Latimer, director of the Capitol City Band, in the middle of the band’s Tribute to the Troops Concert.
“I almost broke down at the concert,” he said.
With the news of Crimo’s trip to Madison, Latimer said he was further concerned.
“Our fabrics have been shaken to the core. As I said at the concert, we have to do something,” he said. “I try to be as careful as I can and tell others the same thing, but I’m prepared for the fact that that kind of an incident can happen, anywhere, any time.”
Madison police have recognized the threat of mass shootings “for years,” Barnes said. The department has trained for such incidents and adjusted “staffing of large events accordingly.”
“Mass shootings are far too common in our country,” he said.
But large public events like parades and community festivals will always present security challenges, experts said.
After the shooting in Highland Park, police departments might respond by stationing officers on rooftops, said Gary Raymond, owner of Great Lakes Security Services in Milwaukee, a private security firm.
“They’re constantly trying to adapt to new ways of crime,” he said of police. “Now we have to worry about people on rooftops.”
Madison does deploy drones and “overwatch” (snipers) during some events in Madison to monitor rooftops, Barnes said.
Police could also start using cameras more along parade routes, after cameras helped identify Crimo, Raymond said.
Organizers of large public events anywhere should also make sure they know how to create action plans for potential threats, said Mike Tobia, a former senior adviser for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and a senior vice president at Brosnan Risk Consultants.
While uniformed and plainclothes officers can make an impact, as can metal detectors and a secure perimeter, no singular “magic pill” exists to keep a crowd safe, Tobia said.
“It’s a culmination of many things that come together to form the highest level of security and safety,” he said.
State Journal reporter Chris Rickert contributed to this report.
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