CHICAGO — Prosecutors in suburban Chicago charged the father of a man accused of killing seven people at a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Ill., with felonies on Friday, claiming that he acted recklessly when he signed onto his son’s application for a gun ownership permit.
The seven counts of reckless conduct filed against the father, Robert Crimo Jr., mark at least the second time in recent years that a parent of an accused mass killer has faced charges for their actions leading up to the attack, and it could signal increased willingness by prosecutors to seek punishment for family members who may have ignored warning signs or provided access to weapons.
“People bear responsibility when they recklessly endanger others,” said Eric Rinehart, the top prosecutor in Lake County, as he announced the charges, which can carry a sentence of up to three years in prison. He claimed the father knew about a series of concerning episodes involving his son before he signed the gun application permit, and that endorsing that application was reckless.
“The government is not typically going to know more than a parent about what’s going on,” Mr. Rinehart said, “with an 18-, 19- or 20-year-old.”
The accused gunman in Highland Park, Robert Crimo III, has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial. Prosecutors said he climbed onto the roof of a building this summer during the Independence Day parade in that lakefront suburb north of Chicago and began firing indiscriminately with a high-powered rifle, wounding dozens in addition to the seven people he killed.
In the days after the shooting, officials said the younger Mr. Crimo, now 22, had been able to legally purchase his rifle despite Illinois’s relatively strict gun laws and a series of encounters with law enforcement.
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In a statement, George M. Gomez, a lawyer for the elder Mr. Crimo, a longtime deli owner in Highland Park who once ran unsuccessfully for mayor, called the charges against his client “baseless and unprecedented.”
Mr. Gomez said that the decision “should alarm every single parent in the United States of America” who could be held criminally liable for the actions of their adult children.
“These charges are absurd and we will fight them every step of the way,” he said.
Officers had responded to the younger Mr. Crimo’s home in 2019 after someone reported that he had tried to kill himself. And they came to his home a few months later — seizing a knife collection — after a family member reported that he had pledged to “kill everyone.” But after that incident, the elder Mr. Crimo sponsored his son’s application for a state gun ownership permit, records showed, a step that was required to receive the permit because his son was a young adult at the time.
After the shooting, the father said that he did not do anything wrong and that he was shocked by what had taken place.He surrendered to the police and was expected to face a judge on Saturday morning, Mr. Rinehart said.
The Illinois charges follow a new legal playbook being tested in Michigan, where the parents of a teenager who pleaded guilty to killing classmates at Oxford High School last year were charged with involuntary manslaughter. Prosecutors there said they filed the charges because the parents allowed their son access to a handgun while ignoring warnings that he was on the brink of violence. The parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial.
In Illinois, the Highland Park shooting raised questions about the effectiveness of the state’s gun laws, including a red-flag measure that allows the authorities to take weapons from people deemed dangerous, and the way the state issues gun ownership permits.
The younger Mr. Crimo was issued his permit to possess guns even though the local police filed a report after the knife seizure saying he was a “clear and present danger.” Brendan Kelly, director of the Illinois State Police, said in July that the report did not offer enough legal proof to sustain those findings. Last month, the state police announced that it was expanding the potential uses of those reports as part of a review that started after the Highland Park killings.
Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, a network of parents pushing for stronger gun laws, criticized the elder Mr. Crimo’s decision to sponsor his son’s gun permit application.
She argued that the manufacturer of the gun and the retailer who sold it should also be held accountable. “Each and every one of these entities and individuals bears responsibility for the devastation that resulted,” she said.
Jacqueline von Edelberg, a Highland Park resident and activist who created a public art installation near the site of the shooting to honor victims of gun violence, said that the charges moved the community closer to justice.
“The shooting in Highland Park represents a systemic failure,” she said. “These charges, plus the lowering of red-flag thresholds, definitely move us in the right direction.”