‘It could have happened’: Madison officials react to city being targeted by Highland Park gunman

MADISON, Wis. — The Madison Police Department is responding to reports from authorities in the Chicago area that the man accused of killing seven people and injuring dozens of others during a mass shooting during a July 4 parade considered a second attack in the Madison area on the same day.

“We are deeply troubled to learn the suspected Illinois parade shooter considered carrying out another attack here in Madison,” Madison Police Chief Shon Barnes said in a statement released by the department Wednesday afternoon. “We feel for the grieving families in Highland Park and all those forever impacted by the events of Monday’s shooting. We recognize tragedy very well could have taken place in our own community. That reality is upsetting to all of us here in Madison, including the members of the Madison Police Department.”

Barnes added that his department is waiting to hear more information about the facts of Robert Crimo III’s trip to Madison from their law enforcement partners investigating the shooting in Highland Park.

RELATED: Highland Park mass shooting suspect ‘seriously contemplated’ second attack in Madison, officials say

“Mass shootings are far too common in our country,” Barnes added. “The Madison Police Department has recognized this concern for years, has trained for these incidents, and has adjusted our staffing of large events accordingly. Protecting you, the members of our community, will always be the top priority for our department.”

Authorities in Illinois said Wednesday morning that Crimo drove to the Madison area after carrying out the shooting in Highland Park and passed a celebration in the Madison area.

“It appears when he drove to Madison, he was driving around, however, he did see a celebration that was occurring in Madison and he seriously contemplated using the firearm he had in his vehicle to commit another shooting in Madison,” Lake County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Chief Christopher Covelli said.

Crimo had about 60 rounds of ammunition and a high-powered rifle in his car at the time.

Covelli said they do not believe that Crimo planned ahead of time to drive to the Madison area and said he decided against a second shooting in the Madison area because he did not plan for or research it ahead of time, as he allegedly did for the Highland Park shooting.

Authorities say Crimo got rid of his cell phone in Middleton on the 6500 block of University Avenue before driving back to the Chicago area, where he was later arrested. The owner of Jim’s Auto Service Center confirmed to News 3 Now reporter Kathryn Merck that the phone was found at his business. The FBI collected the phone as evidence.

RELATED: ‘Why here?’ Middleton business owner is shocked after Highland Park shooter’s phone was found on his property

During a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Barnes said local law enforcement officials didn’t learn of Crimo’s intent until Wednesday morning.

“I will share this: on Monday, July 4, at approximately 5 p.m., the FBI contacted the Madison Police Department and requested mobilization of our SWAT team. They believed the suspect could be in the Madison area,” Barnes said. “Our SWAT team began the process of mobilization and staging when we were subsequently informed that the suspect was already in custody in Illinois. At that time, we released our teams.”

“We will never know for certain what stopped him, but I am thankful that no innocent lives were taken from our city,” the police chief added. “Monday is another painful reminder that mass shootings are far too common in our country.”

Speaking to News 3 Now on Tuesday, Barnes initially declined to comment about Crimo being in the Madison area, referring questions to the FBI.

RELATED: Madison police chief shares how department keeps large events safe after Highland Park parade shooting

During the news conference, Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett said his agency is ready and willing to help federal authorities with their investigation if asked.

“July Fourth celebrations are an American tradition,” he said. “We celebrate our independence in small and large towns all throughout our country, and the attack on July Fourth was an emotional attack on each and every community here in America.”

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway called the news “deeply disturbing” and called on lawmakers to enact tougher gun control laws.

“Thank goodness he didn’t do anything here in Madison, but it could have happened. And frankly, right now, we know that something like this could happen in any community in the United States of America. And does happen on a weekly basis,” the mayor said Wednesday. “So yes, people should be aware; they should be afraid that a mass shooting can happen in our community. And I think that it’s important for us to not just say ‘whew okay it wasn’t us this time’ and move on with our lives. We have to demand better from our state and federal government. And it’s not going to get better until we do.”

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi responded to Crimo’s alleged thoughts about carrying out a second attack in the Madison area, calling it a “frightening reminder” that no one is immune to the “often randomness of gun violence.”

Rep. Dianne Hesselbein (D-Middleton), who lives around a mile from where Crimo’s phone was recovered, said the incident shows nowhere is safe from gun violence.

“Thank God he decided not to do anything here, but once again my heart breaks for the people of Illinois,” she said. “I don’t know what it’s going to finally take for the Republican Party to wake up and realize that gun violence is an epidemic that happens in this country over any other country and we have to take it seriously and we have to get guns off the streets.”

A judge in Illinois ruled Wednesday that Crimo will be held without bond after being charged with seven counts of first-degree murder, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison without parole. Prosecutors say they plan to file additional charges in the future for every person who was injured in the mass shooting.