Police released new details Tuesday on how a mass shooting at the Highland Park Independence Day Parade unfolded, saying the suspected gunman had been planning the attack "for several weeks" and dressed in disguise to help flee the scene.
Lake County Major Crimes Task Force spokesman Sgt. Christopher Covelli said the 21-year-old suspect had legally purchased a high-powered rifle before he climbed a fire escape at a business along the suburban Chicago parade route and fired more than 70 times from the rooftop.
"We do believe [the suspect] pre-planned this attack for several weeks," Covelli said. "He brought a high-powered rifle to this parade, he accessed the roof of a business via a fire escape ladder and began opening fire on the innocent Independence Day celebration goers."
Authorities said a gun found at the scene and another rifle found in the 21-year-old's vehicle at the time he was arrested were registered in his name and legally purchased, but a motive for the shooting remains unclear.
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NBC 5 Investigates reports that officials recovered five weapons, a mix of handguns and rifles. One was found on the rooftop, one in his car and two at his house. The guns were purchased legally in 2020 and 2021, according to NBC 5 Investigates reporting.
"[The] shooting appears to be completely random," Covelli said, adding that "we have no information to suggest at this point it was racially motivated, motivated by religion or any other protected status."
Covelli said the alleged gunman dressed in women's clothing to "conceal his facial tattoos and his identity," and escaped with others fleeing the chaos.
"He dropped his rifle and he blended in with the crowd and he escaped," Covelli said, adding that he "blended right in with everybody else as they were running around almost as he was an innocent spectator as well."
He went to his mother's home near the parade in Highland Park, borrowed her vehicle and was taken into custody hours later after a witness reported seeing the vehicle in the North Chicago suburb.
According to NBC 5 Investigates, the suspect took his phone to Madison, Wisconsin, dumping it there to throw off authorities.
Charges had not been filed as of Tuesday morning, but Covelli said they were expected in the coming hours. The suspect remained in custody as of 11:30 a.m., he said, adding that there were "no indications" anyone else was involved in the shooting.
NorthShore University Health System said Tuesday at least 38 people were taken to its hospitals, up from the 26 who were treated immediately following the shooting. Eight of those patients remained hospitalized Tuesday, two of them at NorthShore's Highland Park hospital, five at its Evanston location and one at its Glenbrook location.
"A vast majority suffered gunshot wounds and the remaining sustained injuries as a result of the ensuing chaos at the parade," NorthShore Highland Park Hospital said Monday.
Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest also confirmed Tuesday that its hospital treated nine patients, five of which were discharged Monday. Six of the nine patients suffered gunshot-related wounds while three suffered fall-related injuries.
The gunshot victims were all adults, the hospital said, but the ages of the others weren't immediately known. All were listed in fair to good condition, according to Chief of Media Relations Chris King.
The shooting happened at 10:14 a.m. CT in the area of Central Avenue and 2nd Street in downtown Highland Park during the city's Fourth of July parade, authorities said.
In separate social media videos, several gunshots could be heard, followed by a pause and another round of gunfire. In some videos, more than 50 shots are heard.
Larry Bloom, who was in the area when shots began, said at first spectators thought the "popping" sound was part of the parade.
"You heard like a 'pop, pop, pop,' and I think everybody kinda thought maybe it was a display on one of the floats and then it just opened up," Bloom said.
"I was screaming and people were screaming," Bloom said. "They were panicking and they were just scattering and I, you know, we didn't know. You know, it was right on top of us."
While the shelter-in-place order for Highland Park residents has been lifted, police are still urging people to avoid the city's downtown area while the investigation continues.
Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker asked for prayers for the families of the deceased and for those who were injured in the shooting.
"There are no words for the kind of monster who lies in wait and fires into a crowd of families with children celebrating a holiday with their community," Pritzker said in a statement. "There are no words for the kind of evil that robs our neighbors of their hopes, their dreams, their futures. There are no words I can offer to lift the pain of those they leave behind. Please know that our state grieves with you, that MK and I grieve with you."
Police continued to urge witnesses to submit any photos or videos of the scene that may be of use in their investigation.
"One of the asks that we have is members of the community, if you have any video of this individual that is walking toward the parade, at the parade, potentially on the roof or exiting to please call 1-800-Call-FBI," Covelli said.
Editor's note: Police originally reported the suspected gunman was 22, but clarified Tuesday that he was 21 and turns 22 in September.
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