HIGHLAND PARK, IL—Two weeks after he spotted and participated in the arrest of the alleged Highland Park parade shooter on July 4, North Chicago police officer Gary Grayer is still playing the sequence back in his mind.
Grayer was the first law enforcement officer on the scene at Route 41 and Westleigh Road in Lake Forest, where an astute driver had trailed a silver Honda Fit driven by suspect Robert “Bobby” Crimo III and relayed location information to emergency dispatchers.
As Grayer approached the vehicle, he said Crimo pulled over to his left and came to a stop. In the seconds that followed, Grayer said he prepared himself for a deadly firefight.
“My eyes just got wide,” he said.
“I’m like, ‘Man, he’s going to try it,’” the police officer recalled. “‘He’s going to pull it, and we’re going to be in a shootout.’ That’s what I was thinking.”
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Grayer and six of his fellow officers, including four who helped make the Crimo arrest, were honored at Monday night’s North Chicago City Council meeting.
Police Chief Lazaro Perez commended his officers for their actions that evening.
“I’m extremely proud of all of them,” he said. “They all do excellent work, day in and day out, that goes unrecognized. Today, we’re happy about the fact that we were able to recognize them.
“Without situational awareness and the coordination of Officer Grayer, as well as the teamwork of Officers (Cory) Collum, (Matthew) Decowski, (Chris) Mueller and (Mike) Mueller, this incident may have escalated into another tragedy,” Perez said before the city council chamber broke out in applause, with many giving a standing ovation.
“The level of awareness, bravery and professionalism and teamwork displayed by the above-mentioned officers in an example to follow by other law enforcement officers,” he said.
Officers Donald Florance and Thomas Kropp were also recognized for assisting the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Lake County Major Crime Task Force with their respective investigations and response.
Grayer said he still doesn’t know who called in about the suspect’s vehicle, but that he owes them his gratitude.
“I thank that person, whoever he may be, I wish I could shake his hand,” the officer said. “Saw it and called it in, like Chief (Lazaro) was saying. I just hit it. I got toward (Route) 41, went south and was like, ‘All right, where we at? Where we at?’ I’m searching, I’m scanning, it was like a canine looking for dope. I was scanning, scanning, scanning.”
Grayer recalled traffic conditions that day to be unusually light, and he was able to easily spot the 911 caller, who had their hazard lights on, and the Honda Fit. As heavily armed reinforcements from the North Chicago police department, one officer from Lake Forest and another from Highwood arrived, Grayer commanded Crimo out of the car and he surrendered “without incident.”
“What really shocked me is I said, ‘Put your hands on the car,’ and he did it,” Grayer said. “I’m still heightened because I’m thinking, ‘Is this a trick?’ This guy just committed a mass murder. He just shot and killed seven people.”
Grayer said he commanded Crimo to keep his hands up as he exited the vehicle, and then to raise his shirt up to show he had no weapons. He said he thought the suspect was confused by one of the commands, but did not appear to be carrying a weapon, though police soon found a high-powered assault rifle and ammunition in the vehicle.
“I just told him, ‘Do me a favor, get on your knees,’” Grayer said. “Lay flat on your stomach, arms out, airplane, and then once he did that, (he) did not move, the team went in and my partner (Cory Collum) did the cuffing.”
“I was relieved once he was cuffed, but I was also shocked that he gave up this easy after the heinous crime he did,” the officer said.
Grayer wasn’t sure why Crimo pulled over without Grayer turning on his squad car lights. He said he heard a rumor Crimo might have run out of gas, but emphasized that he didn’t know if that was true.
He added that the officers felt a wave of relief once Crimo had been placed in Grayer’s squad car.
“It’s still a surreal moment,” Grayer said. “Fourth of July won’t ever be the same for some. Being able to assist and get that person off the street, in a way I just hope it gives the family some closure.”
Perez said Grayer has connected well with the North Chicago and greater Lake County areas while on the force, and that his recognition was well-earned.
“Gary’s got a lot of things to be proud of, not just this incident,” the police chief said. “He is probably one of our most recognizable officers. He is constantly out in the public eye. Everybody in the community and probably Lake County knows Gary.”
As Grayer returned from his shift on July 4, he said voicemails and texts poured in from friends who saw a viral video of the arrest and could hear his commands.
“Everybody gave me kudos; everybody’s like, ‘You’re a hero,’” he said. “I said, ‘I’m not a hero. It was a team effort.’ We did our part, and we did it the right way.”
On Monday night, Grayer’s eyes welled with tears as he reckoned with the tragedy, imagining if his own family had been in attendance at the parade.
“I can just feel the pain,” he said.
His mother, father, brother, daughter and friends flanked Grayer outside the City Council Chamber, offering warm smiles and congratulations before he spoke with the media and joined a celebration that included a cake and refreshments.
Grayer gave hugs and posed for photos, but the darkness of the crime still lingered on his mind.
“Seeing that (crime) scene, it was like, wow,” he continued. “The aftermath, how everything was, it made me really sad. I was going to tear up. Can’t even enjoy a parade, a function, and bring out the family.”
He said a recent, serious conversation with his fiance, a nurse, “opened up a lot of stuff” that had been replaying in his head as he attempted to process the tragedy.
“She was like, ‘How you feeling?’” Grayer said. “I said, ‘To be honest with you, I don’t know. I’m happy that we caught him, but I’m completely sad because people lost their lives.’”
Grayer said he is used to dealing with the emotional and mental stresses of his career, and that he has people to lean on and healthy hobbies to ease his mind. He added that he can’t let the situation “eat you up.”
“Instances like this are starting to become more common and it’s sad, and we have to be mentally and physically prepared for it,” he said. “It hurts.
“You’re angered by it, you’re sad by it and it just stresses you out. I appreciate everybody coming out, but it’s like, it’s not about us,” he continued. “It’s something we had to do that day and we did it, and we didn’t hesitate.”
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