NEW YORK (WPIX) — Buffalo, New York. Uvalde, Texas. Highland Park, Illinois.
On the Fourth of July, the nation once again confronted what experts say is a growing mental health crisis among young American men who turn to gun violence to take out their frustrations.
“Whatever social media outlet they’re using, that is their escape,” said Professor Michael Alcazar with John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “That is how they remedy whatever psychological needs they have.”
Alcazar made the observation Tuesday as a seventh victim died from gunshot injuries sustained Monday during a Fourth of July parade shooting in Highland Park, Illinois.
Police revealed at least 70 shots were fired from a high-powered rifle by a gunman positioned on a rooftop over the parade route.
Federal and local authorities took 21-year-old Robert Crimo III into custody Monday night. He was officially charged Tuesday with seven counts of murder.
Police said Crimo was able to legally purchase two high-powered rifles — and three other weapons — despite police being called to his home twice in 2019. Investigators said Crimo was talking about suicide and making violent threats during the incidents three years ago.
Officials also revealed Tuesday that Crimo initially evaded capture after the mass shooting because he was dressed as a woman and ran away with the terrified crowd. It took law enforcement hours to track him down in his silver Honda.
Crimo called himself “Awake the Rapper” on his YouTube channel, where he posted videos and drawings that showed a preoccupation with police shootouts.
His pseudonym was tattooed above his left eyebrow. He had additional tattoos on his face and neck.
The shooting in Highland Park is the third alleged against a young man in less than two months.
On May 14, police said Peyton Gendron, 18, livestreamed a mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, where 10 people were killed in what officials described as a racially motivated attack.
Gendron used the social media platform Twitch to stream before the footage was quickly taken down, authorities said.
Ten days later, Uvalde, Texas, was devastated by a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School. The attack left 19 students and two teachers dead.
Suspected gunman Salvador Ramos, also 18, was described as a “bullied loner.” He barricaded himself in a classroom for more than an hour before Border Patrol agents burst in and shot him dead, according to investigators.
Ramos had hinted at his plans on social media, where he posted a photo of two rifles he bought on his 18th birthday, three days before the shooting, officials said.
On the day of the school massacre, police said Ramos shot his grandmother before crashing his truck in a ditch that was close to Robb Elementary.
“There’s something definitely there that’s common with all three,” Alcazar said. “They don’t get the attention in their real life, and they seek it in social media. That’s the world they’re living in.”
Alcazar also noted: “They all seem to be introverted in real life but extroverted in social media, where they can express themselves.”
Alcazar expressed concern that there’s a copycat nature to some of the recent attacks.
“Violence is some kind of outlet for these kids with mental illness, and a way for them to get the attention they’re not getting in real life,” Alcazar said.
Gendron had a mental health evaluation nearly a year before the Buffalo attack. Authorities said he’d talked about a murder-suicide after graduation. He was held for a two-day evaluation, even though he said he was joking.
Crimo’s uncle told reporters in Illinois he was “heartbroken” by the mass shooting. He said he didn’t see the violence coming.
“To me, he was a good kid,” the uncle said. “He showed … nothing.”
Yet Alcazar said the way Crimo presented himself and his online videos pointed to something very wrong.
“Sadly, there are no established protocols for reporting social ineptitudes,” Alcazar said. “We have to establish some kind of reporting protocol when friends and family see something that’s just out of whack.”