The case against the suspected Highland Park gunman

As the Highland Park community mourns after the July Fourth shooting, there are many questions about the gunman. Illinois has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, but that didn’t stop the suspect from obtaining high-caliber firearms. Lake County State Attorney Eric Rinehart, part of the task force investigating what happened and making charging decisions, joins Stephanie Sy to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As the community around Highland Park, Illinois, mourns the lives lost in the July 4 shooting, there are many questions still about the shooter's motive and his ability to legally obtain guns.

    The accused gunman has been charged with murdering seven people, and prosecutors plan to bring more charges. If convicted, the suspect could face life in prison without the possibility of parole. Now the prosecutor is asking for more to be done to avoid yet another tragedy in the future.

    Stephanie Sy has details.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Judy, Illinois has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, but that didn't stop the suspect from obtaining high-caliber firearms.

    Lake County state attorney Eric Rinehart is part of the task force investigating what happened and making charging decisions, and he joins the "NewsHour" now.

    Mr. Rinehart, thank you for joining us.

    What more do you know at this point about the motive of the shooter to target these parade-goers? And what additional charges are you looking at?

  • Eric Rinehart, Lake County, Illinois, State’s Attorney:

    Thank you very much for having me on, Stephanie.

    First, I want to continue to express my condolences, our office's condolences to the families who lost their loved ones, to those who were injured. This has been devastating to our community. But there's also been a lot of strength and a lot of fortitude. And that is uplifting, even as we begin the healing process.

    Regarding the motive, I don't want to talk too much about that. I want that evidence to come out in court. It's not — it's not something that we have gotten into a lot of detail, because we're — this is still an active investigation. We are still investigating a mountain of evidence.

    You asked me about, what other charges are we looking at? Everyone who was injured in that parade on that plaza, we're going to get justice for every one of them. And we're going to file a charge related to each and every person who was hurt. We're looking at a few other charges also, in terms of how broad this plan and this attack was to intimidate and scare people on July 4.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Mr. Rinehart, one of the facts that have come out is that the suspect's father sponsored his son's firearms application. He's only 21 years old. He was 19 when he sponsored that application, and it was just a few months after his son had threatened to take his own life and the lives of other family members.

    Are investigators speaking to the father, to the family?

  • Eric Rinehart:

    Well, I know that the father has been giving some media interviews. I don't want to get too much into what our investigation has been and what his level of cooperation is.

    I have said that I think these types of weapons should be banned in Illinois and beyond. And so it shouldn't just be up to whether or not a father stops his son, but why that son was able to get the weapons in the first place.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    You said that it's alarming that he would have been able to get these guns under the circumstances he was in.

    The attorney for the suspect's parents has said there is — quote — "zero chance" they can be charged. As a law enforcement official, is that true? What does it take legally, in your opinion, to consider whether the father should be charged in any way?

  • Eric Rinehart:

    I don't agree with Mr. Greenberg at all that there is zero chance.

    We're continuing to analyze all of the evidence and all of the information that we have. And we are continuing to try to understand this attack and who knew what when.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Mr. Rinehart, as you said, you are calling for a federal assault weapons ban.

    Why focus on that, though, when it has not been politically viable in Congress for almost two decades, instead of focusing on what could have been done to keep this assault rifle out of this suspect's hands based on laws that already exist in your state and in your county?

  • Eric Rinehart:

    Yes, I really appreciate that question.

    So, first of all, I think we should have it in Illinois. I think it is politically possible in Illinois. And it was — it used to be politically possible. It was bipartisan from 1994 to 2004. It had law enforcement support. And I think we can do it in Illinois. It's not that I'm focusing on one thing or another thing.

    We need to have multiple ways to keep our communities safe. It's not one thing. It's many things that we should do. We should invest in a mental health infrastructure. We should have digital connectivity between law enforcement agencies, prosecutor's offices, court systems, schools. We need to do a lot of things.

    But, certainly, limiting, moving away the access that people can get to these guns is one really important step. So many of these weapons that were used in these mass killings were bought legally. And that is incredibly alarming.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    So, again, I want to focus on your purview, which is the loss or — the suspect had two encounters with police in 2019 for threats of violence and suicide.

    Your county has laws that allow for police or family members to apply for a firearms restraining order to prevent people like that from getting guns. In fact, your office just resent out that guidance today. Who or what failed in the system that allowed this clearly disturbed person to possess an AR-15?

  • Eric Rinehart:

    Yes, absolutely.

    So, in 2019, Illinois passed the Firearm Restraining Order — the Firearm Restraining Order Act that allows law enforcement or family members to file with a court a petition that says an individual should not be able to possess firearms, and, if there are firearms in the house, to take the firearms away.

    There weren't firearms in the house. In the 2019 incident, there were no firearms. And I'm certainly not — I'm not defending everybody in 2019. I think the family had information as weapons were bought. But it's called a firearm restraining order. It's called a — not called a knife restraining order. And

    so I think this comes down to the people who have the most information. The incident happens in Highland Park. Highland Park reports it to the Illinois State Police. Highland Park isn't notified when Mr. Crimo goes out and buys a weapon. And there's a lot of political reasons why Highland Park isn't immediately notified that young Mr. Crimo bought a weapon.

    I, of course, agree with you, Stephanie. Something needs to be done here. But why are we putting all of this on a single point of contact? It can then lead to a single point of failure. We need to have multiple ways to protect people.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Eric Rinehart, Lake County state attorney, thank you so much for joining the "NewsHour." Appreciate your time.

  • Eric Rinehart:

    Thank you.

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