Robert Crimo ‘sized up’ synagogue months before Highland Park shooting, security officer says

‘He was definitely sizing up the synagogue,’ Martin Blumenthal, a volunteer security coordinator at a synagogue in Highland Park, Illinois, said about Robert Crimo’s visit over Passover

Highland Park shooting: Police arrest suspected gunman after six killed at Chicago parade

Robert Crimo, the suspect in the deadly July 4th mass shooting in Highland Park, Illinois, that left seven dead and dozens wounded, reportedly paid a suspicion-raising visit to a synagogue over Passover, a security director claimed.

Martin Blumenthal, the volunteer security coordinator for Central Avenue Synagogue, told The Forward that Mr Crimo visited the congregation on the last day of Passover in April, pointing out that the facility is located just a stone’s throw away from the parade route where the 21-year-old is alleged to have randomly fired off more than 70 rounds into a crowd watching the Independence Day celebration on Monday.

“He was definitely sizing up the synagogue,” Mr Blumenthal said in an interview on Tuesday, adding that he was first alerted to the young man’s presence in the synagogue as he claimed he didn’t match the typical Chabad visitor, as he was dressed in all black, including black gloves.

When Mr Blumenthal approached the 21-year-old, he said that he made sure to feel his backpack – which he says he believes didn’t have any noticeable weapons – and added that he “watched him the whole time” he attended the service before he left on bike.

On Tuesday, Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart announced that Mr Crimo had been charged with seven counts of first-degree murder, less than 24 hours after his arrest.

More charges are expected to follow, Mr Rinehart noted. If convicted, Mr Crimo faces a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole.

“In the courtroom, we will seek the maximum sentence against this offender. Not because we seek vengeance, but because justice and the healing process demand it,” Mr Rinehart said.

Though Mr Blumenthal never reported the April visit to the Highland Park synagogue to authorities, as by his assessment then, he hadn’t broken any laws by attending the service, he did call police this week to let them know about it after he saw Mr Crimo’s picture on the news following the deadly mass shooting.

“I profiled him. I knew what he was up to,” the volunteer security coordinator said, who didn’t confirm to the news outlet whether he was carrying a firearm at the time of Mr Crimo’s visit. “But he didn’t cause a disturbance or anything. So I was just watching him.”

Mr Blumenthal wasn’t the only person to take notice of Mr Crimo’s presence in the congregation over the high holiday this past spring.

A still image from surveillance footage show a person who police believe to be Robert (Bob) E. Crimo III, a person of interest in the mass shooting that took place at a Fourth of July parade route in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park, Illinois, US dressed in women's clothing on July 4, 2022

Rabbi Yosef Schanowitz, the rabbi of the Central Avenue Synagogue, confirmed in an interview with Israel National News website this week that he too recognised the photo of the suspected shooter when it was released by police on Monday, remembering that he’d seen the man inside his own place of worship just a few months prior.

“During the last Passover holiday, that person entered the Chabad synagogue. We have an armed security guard sitting in front,” Rabbi Schanowitz said, noting how the synagogue has a hired armed-officer come to the congregation on Chabad and holidays. “I approached him and sternly asked him to leave as I noticed he was not a member of our community,” he added.

The motive behind the attack is still unknown, though police confirmed during a press conference on Tuesday that the plans formulated for the mass shooting had been in the works for several weeks.

Dozens of mourners gather for a vigil near Central Avenue and St Johns Avenue in downtown Highland Park, one day after a gunman killed at least seven people and wounded dozens more by firing an AR-15-style rifle from a rooftop onto a crowd attending Highland Park's Fourth of July parade

“We do believe Crimo pre-planned the attack for several weeks,” said Lake County Sgt Christopher Covelli during a briefing.

Officials were also questioned about whether warning signs may have been missed, after it emerged that the accused had shared several disturbing and violent videos online prior to the attack.

It was also revealed Tuesday that, three months before Mr Crimo applied for his Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) card, police had been called to his home after he’d threatened to “kill everyone” inside.

The high-powered rifle uncovered at the scene was legally obtained, as were the multiple firearms authorities found after a search warrant was issued for Mr Crimo’s bedroom, which included another rifle and a handgun.

Highland Park, located about 25 miles north of Chicago, is considered to be a densely populated Jewish suburb, according to Haaretz and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, who both cite reports that the denomination’s population within the region as hovering around 30,000.

Of the six people who have so far been identified as having died during Monday’s brazen attack, three of the confirmed casualties were Jewish, including: Jacki Sundheim, 63, who was among one of the first victims to be announced after the synagogue where she worked as an events coordinator released a statement late Monday night confirming her death, Stephen Straus, 88, and Catherine Goldstein, 64.

The Times of Israel reported that Israel’s Foreign Ministry was alerted earlier this week that there had been Jewish casualties in the mass shooting.

Mr Crimo is scheduled to make his first appearance in court during a hearing on Wednesday.

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