Suspected July 4 gunman an alienated youth with dark online persona

Police tape is seen around the scene of the July 4 parade shooting, littered with children's bicycles and baby strollers, in Highland Park, Illinois
AFP

Before he was accused of wreaking terror and chaos on a US Independence Day parade, the Highland Park community knew Robert Crimo as a quiet kid and former Cub Scout.

But online, the 21-year-old known to friends and family as Bobby showed a strong inclination for violence and anger at being overlooked.

“I know him as somebody who was a Cub Scout when I was the Cub Scout leader,” Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering told NBC on Tuesday, describing Crimo as “just a little boy.”

“It is one of those things where you step back and you say, ‘What happened?'”

Crimo, who grew up in Highland Park, lived in an apartment behind his father’s house. His dad, Bob Crimo, owned a local deli and had run against Rotering for mayor in 2019.

Crimo’s uncle, Paul Crimo, described his nephew as a “lonely, quiet person” to CNN.

“There were no signs that I saw would make him do this.”

But Paul Crimo also admitted he didn’t enjoy interacting with his nephew.

“I associate with him, but I don’t really like to engage with him,” he said.

Dark online persona

Despite the perception that Crimo was just an introverted young man, his online persona offered troubling signs.

A thin white man with a patchy beard, Crimo also has several tattoos on his neck and face, including one above his left eyebrow of the word “Awake,” a reference to his stage name.

Crimo bills himself as a musician, and goes by the online moniker “Awake the Rapper.”

He posted his songs and music videos on Spotify and YouTube and had a modest following.

But in one video, computer drawn images show a figure in tactical gear shooting a rifle at a kneeling person begging for mercy.

Another video is of Crimo in a classroom, wearing a helmet and vest and standing next to an American flag as he threw bullets on the floor.

The voiceover on that video says, “I need to just do it. It is my destiny.”

In another clip, Crimo says, “I hate when others get more attention than me on the internet.”

The videos and songs have now been removed from YouTube and Spotify.

Crimo’s social media pages have also been taken down, but archived photos from his accounts appear to show him at a rally for then-president Donald Trump.

In another, Crimo appears to have a Trump flag draped around his shoulders.

Crimo “seems to have intended violence for a long time, even illustrating it” in his videos, said Emerson Brooking, a research fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank specializing in extremist internet and social media usage.

But even with the apparent pro-Trump images, “so far it does *not* appear that he was partisan or ideological,” Brooking said on Twitter, drawing a distinction between the mass shooters in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas.

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