After the bloody crime at a US National Day street parade in a suburb of Chicago, the suspected gunman has been charged with seven counts of murder. “These are just the first of many charges,” Lake County District Attorney Eric Rinehart said on Tuesday evening (local time) in the small town of Highland Park.
He expects the 21-year-old suspect to be held accountable on dozens of other counts. But if convicted, the mere first-degree murder charges would carry a life sentence with no chance of parole.
Rinehart announced that the public prosecutor’s office will apply to the court this Wednesday for the suspect to be taken into custody – without the possibility of being released on bail pending a verdict.
Meanwhile, investigators are puzzling over the motive of the perpetrator. The young man is suspected of shooting indiscriminately at a crowd of people celebrating with a “powerful rifle” from the roof of a commercial building. The investigators announced this on Monday (local time).
The crime took place in a suburb of Chicago, Illinois. Several music videos posted on the internet showing scenes of gun violence are attributed to the suspect. He was arrested hours after the crime.
Numerous residents gathered in the center of the 30,000-inhabitant city of Highland Park on the morning of July 4th, when Independence Day is celebrated nationwide. They wanted to celebrate together. But the first shots were fired shortly after the parade began.
Eyewitnesses later reported in US media that they initially thought the noise was fireworks. “Words fail me to describe this type of monster that lurks and shoots into a crowd of families with children,” state Gov. Jay Robert Pritzker wrote on Twitter.
According to new police findings, the suspected shooter planned his crime for weeks. According to current knowledge, he legally bought his weapon, a “powerful rifle”, in the state of Illinois, a police spokesman said on Tuesday in Highland Park, a suburb of Chicago.
The young man wore typical women’s clothing during his crime in order to camouflage himself and not attract attention among the fleeing people, the police said. He fired more than 70 shots with his gun. He was only taken into custody by investigators hours after the crime. The spokesman said he climbed the roof from which he fired indiscriminately at the crowd via a fire escape.
After another victim died from his injuries, the death toll rose to seven on Tuesday. In addition, more than 30 people were injured. A doctor at a hospital said it treated patients aged 8 to 85 with gunshot wounds, including several children.
An eyewitness named Miles Zaremski told CNN that he saw several injured and lifeless people lying on the ground. “It was heartbreaking.” He heard around 30 pops. People fled the parade. “It was just chaotic.” Another eyewitness told WGN that he saw a lone armed gunman “crouching and advancing in a methodical, quasi-military manner.”
According to media reports, the suspected shooter could be identified from the weapon. Investigators found DNA traces on the gun that the suspect left at the scene, US broadcaster NBC News reported.
An uncle of the arrested suspect told CNN that he saw no warning signs of such violence. “I am devastated. I didn’t see any indication that he would do anything like that.” He said he had never seen his nephew behave violently or behave in a way that was worrying. “I can’t say anything bad about him.” He described the young man as a reclusive person: “He’s a quiet kid. He’s usually alone. He’s a lonely, quiet person, he keeps everything to himself.”
There is currently no evidence of accomplices. Another gun was in the getaway car, his mother’s car. It indicates that he also acquired this legally. The police initially kept a low profile on the motive. “We have no information to suggest that this act was racially motivated, religiously motivated or directed against any other specific group,” the spokesman said.
According to US media, the suspect is said to have tried to make a name for himself as a rapper. Several social media accounts believed to be linked to the young man have since been blocked. In archived versions – apparently self-made – videos of the alleged shooter can be seen.
They were published under a pseudonym. A video uploaded about a year ago shows a comic strip in which several scenes of shootings can be seen. At one point, a gunman lies on the ground in a pool of blood, surrounded by police officers with drawn guns.
Another video shows a man with brightly colored hair and several tattoos, including on his face. He can be seen in a room that is supposed to represent a classroom. Towards the end of the video, he poses in front of a blackboard with a protective helmet and a type of combat vest. He holds up a US flag. Investigators had published a mug shot of the suspect on Twitter. Authorities initially gave his age as 22, but an FBI bulletin later said he was 21.
“I grew up in Highland Park and this parade is a highlight of the year for so many families,” wrote US actress Rachel Brosnahan (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”) on Twitter. She also shared memories of her youth in Highland Park on her Instagram story. “I never considered that I might not be safe there.”
The United States has long struggled with gargantuan levels of gun violence. At the end of May, an 18-year-old gunman massacred an elementary school in Texas: he killed 19 children and 2 teachers in the small town of Uvalde before being shot dead by the police. Just over a week earlier, an 18-year-old had shot ten people in Buffalo, New York state, investigators assume a racist motive.
The killing sprees reignited the discussion about stricter gun laws. Firearms are often readily available in the United States. According to the CDC, nearly 20,000 people were shot nationwide in 2020 — more than 50 a day.
Illinois House Representative Brad Schneider was in Highland Park when the shooting rang out. “My condolences to the family and loved ones; my prayers for the injured and for my community; and my commitment to do whatever I can to keep our children, our cities, and our country safer. Enough is enough!” Schneider declared on Twitter after he had fled to safety.
US President Joe Biden said he was “shocked by the senseless gun violence that once again brought grief to an American community on Independence Day.” His statement said, “I will not give up the fight against the gun violence epidemic.” Biden and his Democrats have long called for tougher gun laws. However, far-reaching reforms repeatedly fail due to the resistance of the Republicans in Congress and the influence of the powerful gun lobby organization NRA.
Last month, buoyed by the Texas shootings and other bloody crimes, Congress passed a bipartisan gun control law, but it fell far short of Biden’s proposed reforms. Experts rated the tightening of gun laws as the most important since the mid-1990s. In terms of content, however, the law is only a non-partisan minimal compromise that critics have accused of being completely inadequate.
The law, signed by Biden late last month, provides for more intensive screening of gun buyers under the age of 21. It is also about expanding state laws to take weapons away from potential threats. Illegal arms trafficking should be punishable at the federal level. In addition, billions are to flow into mental health care and anti-violence programs. Additional funds are also earmarked for the safety of schools. The ban on assault rifles demanded by Biden and his Democrats is missing from the law.