The man detained by police as a “person of interest” in the shooting in a Chicago suburb that left six people dead and many more injured Monday was a local rapper whose online presence contained tinges of violence and a haunting monologue depicting a troubled young man.
After a manhunt that put the reeling suburb into lockdown, authorities in Highland Park, Ill., said they had detained Robert Crimo III.
On first glance, Crimo – known online as “Awake the Rapper” – is like many internet performers, with a modest following, amateur music videos on YouTube and tracks on Spotify. In images released by police and on his social media profiles, the 22-year-old is slight, with a patchy beard and tattoos on his face and neck, including one above his left eyebrow that reads “Awake.”
But a closer look at his videos provides some insight into his mental state.
Videos with a voice-over show a computer-drawn image of a figure wearing what appears to be tactical gear and shooting a rifle, with a person kneeling, hands raised apparently begging for mercy, and another lying on the ground. Another clip shows a person appearing to be Crimo wearing a helmet and vest inside a classroom next to an American flag.
The voice-over is imposed on a backdrop of dramatic instrumental music: “I need to leave now, I need to just do it. It is my destiny. Everything has led up to this; nothing can stop me, not even myself.”
In another video, Crimo says: “Freedom. Freedom. Freedom. Freedom? Freedom.” Another: “I hate when others get more attention than me on the internet.”
The videos were no longer available on YouTube late Monday, and his songs were removed from Spotify. A Spotify spokesperson said in an email that the streaming service had removed the content “in partnership” with the various distributors of the music. The distributors were “all aligned on removing this content,” the spokesperson said.
One of Crimo’s videos appears to be shot by him as he waits among a crowd for a presidential motorcade to pass. Photos that appear to show Crimo attending a rally for former President Donald Trump have also surfaced, but it is not clear from his online postings that he was a supporter of Trump or any other political party or candidate.
“He was immersed in fringe internet culture. But nothing uncovered so far suggests a clear political or ideological motive,” said Emerson Brooking, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, which studies how information spreads online.
Brooking said that contrasts with mass shooters in Buffalo, El Paso and Poway, Calif., who posted missives online expressing racist beliefs shortly before their attacks.
Bennet Brizes, who became friends with Crimo around 2015 through the music scene, said Crimo was “consistently apolitical.” When Brizes would ask about current events and politics, Crimo would simply reply, “Man, I don’t know.”
Crimo, whose friends called him Bobby, Brizes said, at one point made decent money from his music; Brizes recalled that Crimo once had physical copies of his music released and walked into a Gucci store in San Diego and purchased a tracksuit. But the two grew apart and stopped talking around 2019. When they spoke early last year, Crimo seemed “depressed,” Brizes said.
While he was always known as kind of a “weird dude” in the lo-fi hip-hop scene, Brizes said there was never anything about him that would suggest real-world violence.
In an interview with Chicago TV station Fox 32, a man identifying himself as Crimo’s uncle, Paul Crimo, said his nephew spent a lot of time on his computer.
“He’s a real quiet kid, keeps everything to himself. He doesn’t express himself, he just sits down on his computer, there’s no interaction between me and him,” said Paul Crimo, who added that his nephew was unemployed but had worked at a Panera Bread franchise about two years ago. “He didn’t go to college, he was a YouTube rapper.”
Paul Crimo said he lived at the same address as Robert Crimo III and his father, Robert Crimo Jr. But he said his interaction with his nephew was confined to saying hello and goodbye and when he would occasionally help him around the house. The younger Crimo had a separate apartment on the property, his uncle said.
Robert Crimo III’s father appears to be the owner of a local deli who unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Highland Park, a city of about 30,000, in 2019.
“Me and my brother, we are very well known in Highland Park,” Paul Crimo said. “Everyone loves us. It breaks my heart to even hear about this.”