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Who’s on the Hook?: Expanding Liability in the Mass Shooting Context

On July 4, 2022, 21-year-old Robert Crimo opened fire at the Highland Park Independence Day parade.[1] Crimo killed seven people.[2] Dozens more were wounded.[3] And the Highland Park community, along with the rest of America, was devastated.[4] The Highland Park shooting was the 313th mass shooting in the United States during 2022.[5] Since Highland Park, there have been 163 more.[6]

After opening fire at the parade, Crimo immediately fled the scene.[7] He remained on the run for several hours, until authorities captured him in the North Shore.[8] Before his capture, Crimo contemplated committing a second attack in Madison, Wisconsin.[9] Crimo was charged with 21 counts of first-degree murder, 48 counts of attempted murder, and 48 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm.[10] He pled not guilty on all counts and is now awaiting trial.[11] A civil suit has been filed against Crimo, his father, and several businesses who assisted Crimo with obtaining his weapon.[12]

Crimo’s Violent History

Crimo had a well-documented history of violent tendencies and suicide attempts.[13] His online search history reveals an obsession with murder, death, and violence.[14] His phone contained numerous photos of him poising with guns, and included several notes that outlined how to commit attacks like the Highland Park shooting.[15] In September 2019, the Highland Park Police were called to Crimo’s home because he threatened to kill his entire family.[16] Highland Park police confiscated 16 knives, a dagger, and a sword.[17] This incident was reported to the Illinois State Police, but they did not arrest Crimo.[18] All the police did was create a Clear and Present Danger Report, which documented the incident.[19] The confiscated knives were returned to Crimo’s father later that same day.[20]

Crimo then went on to apply for his Firearm Owner’s Identification card (“FOID”). [21] Individuals who wish to legally possess a firearm in the state of Illinois must obtain their FOID card.[22] If an applicant is under twenty-one, they are required to have a cosigner on the application.[23] Crimo’s father sponsored and co-signed his FOID application, as Crimo was only nineteen at the time.[24] When reviewing Crimo’s FOID application, the Illinois State Police found that there was no reason to deny it.[25] The September 2019 Clear and Present Danger Report was on Crimo’s record, but it was not a determinative factor in his FOID check.[26]

The Illinois State Police granted Crimo’s FOID application.[27] Crimo went on to pass four background checks and legally purchase five weapons, including the AR-15 he used in the Highland Park shooting.[28] Crimo’s ability to lawfully obtain several guns despite his well-established violent tendencies and mental health concerns is alarming in itself. But Crimo’s case also presents unique questions about who else may be held liable for his mass shooting. Mainly, should Crimo’s father be held civilly liable, or face criminal charges, for his son’s actions?

Civil Liability of Crimo’s Father

FOID card applicants under the age of 21 are required to have the written consent of their parent or legal guardian to possess and acquire firearm and ammunition.[29] Co-sponsors of FOID applicants are “liable for any damages resulting from the minor applicant’s use of firearms or firearm ammunition.”[30] There are no published decisions under this provision. Additionally, it is unclear whether Crimo’s father would be liable under this provision, given that Crimo was twenty-one years old at the time of the murders. Still, Crimo’s victims’ best option for his father liable is a civil suit for negligence.[31] Victims of other mass shootings have attempted such a suit.

In May 2018, Dimitrios Pagouritz of Santa Fe, Texas, then seventeen, used his father’s guns to kill 10 classmates and teachers at his school.[32] Victims[33] of this massacre sued Pagouritz’s parents.[34] The suit alleges that Pagouritz’s parents “knew that their son was at risk of harming himself or others” but “did not even do the bare minimum.”[35] The suit goes on to claim that Pagouritz’s parents negligently stored their firearms and ignored signs that their son was planning to execute this massacre.[36]

Two years later, in May of 2022, twenty-one-year-old Payton Gendron open fired at Tops Friendly Markets in Buffalo, New York.[37] Gendron shot and killed ten people.[38] He legally obtained the AR-15 used in this killing spree.[39] Zaire Goodman, a survivor of the shooting, is prepared to sue Gendron’s parents for negligent supervision.[40] Gendron’s parents allegedly knew of his propensity for racist outbursts and his public remarks about a murder/suicide plan.[41]

Courts have not yet ruled on whether any of these parents’ actions amount to negligence.[42]  Thus, it remains unclear what evidence amounts to negligent parental supervision in the context of mass shootings. Crimo’s case, however, may finally provide us with an answer.

Among those wounded in the Highland Park shooting were Keely Roberts, Jason Roberts, and their two eight-year old sons.[43] On September 27, 2022, the Roberts family filed civil suit against several parties, including Crimo’s father.[44] Their suit presents several theories of liability, with an underlying theme that “each Defendant enabled the Shooter to carry out a massacre on July 4, 2022.” [45]  The family brings a single claim of negligence against Crimo’s father.[46] The Complaint asserts that Crimo’s father was aware of his son’s “hate-filled and violent rhetoric” and knew that his son was “unstable and wanted to kill people,” yet did not notify law enforcement and instead decided to sponsor his FOID application regardless.[47] The Complaint goes on to state that without his father’s sponsorship, Crimo would have not obtained the AR-15 used in the attack.[48] It also acknowledges that Crimo’s father accepted liability for his son’s action through an affidavit on the FOID application.[49] Litigation in this case is still ongoing.

Criminal Liability of Crimo’s Father

The Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office has not charged Crimo’s father with any crime,[50] but his father could be charged with involuntary manslaughter.[51] In Illinois, an individual commits involuntary manslaughter when “he performs acts that are likely to cause death or great bodily harm to another and he performs these acts recklessly.”[52] A person is reckless “when he consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that circumstances exist or that a result will follow.”[53] To support charges against Crimo’s father, the prosecutors will have to show that it was reasonable for him to foresee that their son would commit this mass shooting.[54] The co-sponsoring of Crimo’s FOID application in light of his violent history and suicidal ideation may be sufficient to meet this requirement.

Though it is uncommon for jurisdictions to charge parents of mass shooters with crimes, more jurisdictions are attempting to do so.[55] For example, the parents of Ethan Crumbley were charged with involuntary manslaughter after their 15-year-old son killed four students and injured seven more while at his Michigan school in November of 2021.[56] Crumbley’s father purchased the gun used in the shooting.[57] Beyond providing the gun, Michigan prosecutors argue that his parents were reckless by “expos[ing] their son to years of chaotic, toxic conflict, which is a well-known risk factor for entering the pathway to violence.”[58]

The parallels between Crumbley’s and Crimo’s cases are uncanny: troubled home life, previously documented violent outbursts, parental assistance in acquiring a weapon, and more. Still, there is one key distinction: Crumbley was a minor who unlawfully stole his dad’s weapon. Crimo, on the other hand, was an adult who lawfully obtained his weapon.[59] This fact alone may free Crimo’s father from criminal liability. Still, the Crumbley case provides an excellent framework on how parents of mass shooters can be criminally charged.

As a final note, Illinois House Republican Mark Batnick has introduced legislation that seeks to hold parents criminally liable for their children’s gun violence.[60] His plan seeks to amend the Illinois Firearm Owners Identification Card Act and provide that if a parent sponsors their child’s FOID application, they will be criminally liable under the Parties to Crime Article of the Criminal Code of 2012.[61] Had this been the law in July of 2022, Crimo’s father could have faced charges for co-signing the FOID application.[62]

Next Steps Moving Forward

Gun violence is a problem in America.[63] After almost every mass shooting, legislation has been proposed to prevent the next tragedy.[64] Time after time, these proposals are rarely, if ever, enacted into law.[65] Extending civil or criminal liability to parents who could have prevented their children’s actions is a way to help victims achieve justice. On its face, a case like Crimo’s seems like an obvious scenario where parental liability could apply. That case, and others like it, will help clarify what evidence is needed to show that a parent should have reasonably foreseen their child’s commission of a mass shooting, and whether the law will hold parents accountable when they might have prevented a senseless tragedy.


[1] Chicago Tribune staff, Highland Park Parade Shooting: What we Know About the Victims, Suspect, Community and Aftermath, Chicago tribune (Aug. 3, 2022),

[2] Becky Sullivan, Highland Park Suspect Confessed to the July 4th Shooting, Prosecutors Say, Nat’l Pub. Radio (July 6, 2022),

[3] Among those wounded is Cooper Brown, an eight-year-old boy who was left paralyzed from the waist down. Michelle Gallardo, ‘I’m heartbroken and sad’: Mom of Boy Paralyzed in Parade Shooting Speaks Publicly for 1st Time, ABC 7 News (July 27, 2022),

[4] Holly Bailey and Susan Berger, A Scourge of Horror Hits Highland Park, Leaving Behind Death and Fear, Wash. Post (July 9, 2022),

[5] Gun Violence Archive, Gun Violence Archive (accessed September 14, 2022), (Mass shooting is defined as “4+ victims injured or killed excluding the subject/suspect/perpetrator, one location.”).

[6] Id.

[7] Chicago Tribune staff, supra note 1.

[8] Annie Sweeney et al., Highland Park Shooting: Man Arrested Apparently Posted Series of Videos; Investigators Turn to Source of Rifle, Chicago Tribune (July 4, 2022),

[9] Staff, Highland Park Shooting Suspect Drove to Madison, Where He Contemplated Another Attack, Officials Say, ABC 2 Wisconsin (July 6, 2022),

[10] Chuck Goudie, Robert Crimo III Indicted on 117 Counts in Deadly Highland Park Parade Shooting, Prosecutors Say, ABC 7 (July 27, 2022),

[11] Chicago Tribune staff, supra note 1.

[12] Lynn Sweet and David Struett, Highland Park Fourth of July massacre: First lawsuits filed, call attack ‘predictable and preventable’ Chicago SunTimes (Sep. 28, 2022),

[13] See Becky Sullivan, Highland Park suspect’s online history reveals a fascination with violence, National Public Radio (July 5, 2022),

[14] Id.

[15] Sweet & Struett, supra note 12.

[16] Monica Eng, How Robert Crimo Legally Bought His Guns, Axios Chicago (July 7, 2022),

[17] Id.

[18] Becky Sullivan, Highland Park Suspect Legally Purchased 5 Guns Despite Worrying Encounter with Police, OPB (July 6, 2022),

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] 430 Ill. Comp. Stat. 65/2 (2021).

[23] Ill. Admin. Code tit. 20 § 1230.40 (2021).

[24] Despite having the confiscated knives returned to him, Crimo’s father claims he was unaware of the September 2019 incident. Annie Sweeney et al., Purchase of Rifle Allegedly Used in Highland Park Massacre Highlights Limits of Illinois Gun Laws, Chicago Tribune (July 5, 2022),

[25] Jonah Meadows, Evidence Was Insufficient to Deny FOID Card to Crimo, State Police Say, Patch (July 6, 2022),

[26] The Illinois State Police has since broadened their authority to use clear and danger reports to deny FOID applications. Press Release, Office of the Governor JB Pritzker, Illinois State Police File Emergency Rule Change to Broaden the Use of Clear and Present Danger Reports in FOID Card Application (July 18, 2022). The Illinois State Police’s emergency rule “allows for the use and maintenance of historic clear and present danger information even if the subject was not actively seeking or holding a FOID car at the time a Clear and Present Danger report was made.” Id. Emergency rules remain in effect for no more than 150 days. Id. The Illinois State Police have expressed their intention to submit this rule to the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules and make this change permanent. Marsha Heller, ISP Files Emergency Rule Change to Broaden Use of Clear and Present Danger Reports, KFVS 12 (July 18, 2022), Though this change does not address the civil liability of Crimo or his father, this change would minimize the risk of individuals like Crimo obtaining a weapon in the first place.

[27] Meadows, supra note 25.

[28] Sullivan, supra note 18.

[29] Ill. Admin. Code tit. 20 § 1230.40 (2021); 430 Ill. Comp. Stat. 65/4(a)(2)(i) (2021). Notably, the statute does not provide for a minimum age requirement. Id. Rather, “[i]f the minor is not physically capable of signing the application because of age, disability or other cause, the parent or legal guardian providing consent must submit a copy of the minor’s birth certificate.” Ill. Admin. Code tit. 20 § 1230.40(c) (2021). Additionally, the lack of a parental signature does not bar someone under twenty-one from receiving their FOID card. Horsley v. Trame, 808 F.3d 1126, 1132 (7th Cir. 2015). An applicant who is unable to obtain a parental signature can appeal to the Director of the Illinois State Police for an independent review of their application. Id.

[30] See Illinois State Police Firearms Services Bureau, Parent/Legal Guardian Affidavit, (last visited Sept. 19, 2022).

[31] See Megan Hickey, Winnetka Murder Case from 1990 Could Provide Legal Route for Highland Park Survivors, CBS Chicago (July 11, 2022), (discussing a successful civil suit against a shooter’s parents).

[32] Santa Fe HS Shooting Suspect Recommitted to Mental Health Facility for up to Another 12 Months, ABC (Feb. 11, 2022), The shooting occurred in May of 2018. Id. As of February of 2022, Pagourtzis remains unfit to stand trial. Id.

[33] Victims include Christopher Stone, a lover of football and ultimate frisbee; Aaron Kyle McLeod, a cheerful and beloved student; Jared Conrad Black, whose 17th birthday party was planned for the next day; Christian Riley Garcia, a lover of all things outdoors; Sabika Aziz Sheikh, a Pakistani exchange student; and Flo Rice and Clayton Horn, who both survived, yet are forever traumatized. Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Petition and Request for Disclosure at 4 – 8, Yanas v. Pagourtzis, 3:20-cv-141 (S.D. Tex. 2019). Because many of these victims did not survive, their estates are represented by their parents in the lawsuit. Id.

[34] Melissa Chan, Just About Everyone But the Gun Maker Gets Sued After a Mass Shooting, Time (Aug. 20, 2019),

[35] Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Petition and Request for Disclosure at 30, Yanas v. Pagourtzis, 3:20-cv-141 (S.D. Tex. 2019).

[36] Id. at 31-46.

[37] Dmitriy Shakhnevich, The Buffalo Massacre: Could the Defendant’s Parents Be Liable?, Bloomberg Law (May 23, 2022),

[38] Id. (discussing evidence that Gendron’s shooting spree was racially motivated).

[39] Peter Nickeas, Casey Tolan & Virginia Langmaid, How the 18-year-old suspect legally obtained guns before the Buffalo mass shooting, CNN (May 18, 2022),

[40] Dan Herberck, Tops Shooting Survivor Intends to Sue Accused Gunman’s Parents, Seeks Court Order, Buffalo News (June 3, 2022),

[41] Id. In a June 3, 2022 court filing, Goodman’s attorneys allege that Gendron’s parents “failed to use reasonable care to restrain Payton Gendron from so viciously conducting himself as to intentionally harm others, despite their knowledge of his propensity for not only racism but violence.” Brief for Petitioner at 10, Goodman v. Gendron (N.Y. Sup. Ct. June 3, 2022) No. 806444/2022.

[42] Information on the suit against Pagouritzas and his parents can be found on the Galveston County, Texas Clerk’s Portal. The case number is CV-0081158. The Goodman parents have yet to file. Herbeck, supra note 40.

[43] ABC7 Chicago Digital Team, Cooper Roberts, boy paralyzed in Highland Park shooting, finally reunited with family at home, ABC 7 (Sept. 22, 2022),

[44] Plaintiffs’ Complaint at Law at 7-9, Roberts v. Smith & Wesson (Ill. Cir. Ct., Sept. 28, 2022) (22LA00000487). This initial Complaint at Law was filed in the Circuit Court of the 19th Judicial Circuit on September 28, 2022. The case will continue to develop. The initial Complaint is available online at: (last visited Sept. 29, 2022). Named Defendants include Smith & Wesson, Bad Guns Shop, Red Dot Arms, Robert Crimo III (the shooter), and Robert Crimo Jr. (his father).  Smith & Wesson manufactured, designed, marketed, and sold the semi-automatic rifle used during this shooting. Plaintiffs’ Complaint at Law at 23.  Buds Gun Shop sold the shooter this rifle online. Id. at 26. Red Dot Arms transferred this rifle to shooter.  Id. at 27. Robert Crimo Jr., the shooter’s father, signed off on the FOID card that allowed him to obtain this weapon. Id. at 31. And Robert Crimo III open fired at the parade. Id. at 28.

[45] Id. at 36.

[46] Id. at 285-303 (“Count VII Negligence, All Plaintiffs v. Robert Crimo Jr.”). The family also brings a claim for NIED and IIED against all Defendants, including Crimo’s father. Id. at 319-336.

[47] Id. at 292-297

[48] Id. at 294.

[49] Id. at 293.

[50] Ray Sanchez, What Are the Chances the Parents of the Highland Park Shooter Will Face Prosecution?, Cnn (July 12, 2022),

[51] 720 Ill. Comp. Stat.  5/9-3(a) (2020) (“A person who unintentionally kills an individual without lawful justification commits involuntary manslaughter if his acts whether lawful or unlawful which cause the death are such as are likely to cause death or great bodily harm to some individual, and he performs them recklessly . . .”).

[52] People v. Eubanks, 160 N.E. 3d 843, 867 (2019).

[53] 720 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/4-6 (2010).

[54] Sanchez, supra note 50.

[55] Sanchez, supra note 50.

[56] Michigan Prosecutors Say Ethan Crumbley’s Parents Exposed Him to Chaotic Home Life, CW50 Detroit (Aug. 5, 2022), Crumbley’s parents, along with the Oxford school district and school administrators, are also facing civil liability. Aileen Wingblad, Lawsuit filed against Ethan Crumbley, Crumbley parents,Oxford school officials, The oakland press (Jan. 29, 2022),

[57] Id.

[58] Id. Prosecutors claim that Ethan Crumbley knew of his parents of excessive drinking, constant fighting, negligent medical care, financial stress, extramarital affairs, and repeated drug use. Id. The prosecutors seek to introduce evidence to show that the Crumbley parents were not only violent, but that they also actively inserted their son into their conflict. Id.  Additionally, the civil lawsuit against Oxford school officials alleges that teachers and counselors repeatedly ignored signs that Crumbley was a victim of child abuse and neglect. Nadine El-Bawab, Victims, parents of Oxford school shooting victims sue school employees, ABC News (May 24, 2022),

[59] See 720 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/24-9 (2000) (“It is unlawful for any person to store or leave, within premises under his or her control, a firearm if the person knows or has reason to believe that a minor under the age of 14 years who does not have a Firearm Owners Identification Card is likely to gain access to the firearm without the lawful permission of the minor's parent, guardian, or person having charge of the minor, and the minor causes death or great bodily harm with the firearm. . .”) (emphasis added).

[60] H.B. 5769, 102nd Gen. Assemb. (Ill. 2022).

[61] Id. (The proposed legislation provides that parents would be liable for “any criminal offenses resulting from their child’s use of firearms or ammunition.”).

[62] The bill does not state at what age liability would end for parents. Id. Thus, it is unclear whether this charge would stand given that Crimo was twenty-one when the shooting took place.

[63] Katherine Schaeffer, Key Facts About Americans and Guns, Pew Rsch. Ctr. (Sep. 13, 2021), (finding that over 90% of Americans view gun violence as a problem in America).

[64]  Annie Karni and Luke Broadwater, A Timeline of Failed Attempts to Address U.S. Gun Violence, N.Y. Times (June 8, 2022),

[65] Id.