Lawsuit: Lexington-based gun retailer illegally shipped firearm to mass shooter

Charles Bertram/cbertram@herald-leader.com

Victims of the Fourth of July mass shooting in Highland Park, Ill., have sued Bud’s Gun Shop in Lexington for its involvement in selling a rifle to alleged 21-year-old shooter Robert Crimo III.

Keely and Jason Roberts filed one of the lawsuits in Lake County Circuit Court on Sept. 27 against several firearm sales companies including the Lexington-based Bud’s Gun Shop (budsgunshop.com), Smith and Wesson Brands, INC., Smith & Wesson Sales Company, Smith & Wesson and Red Dot Arms LLC, according to court documents.

They are also suing Crimo and his father, Robert Crimo Jr.

Court documents allege that each defendant enabled Crimo to carry out the massacre on July 4 when he fired 83 shots in seconds during a Fourth of July Parade. Keely Roberts was shot in the foot and her 8-year-old son was paralyzed by a bullet, according to the lawsuit.

Crimo was said to have planned the shooting weeks, if not months in advance, according to multiple media reports. He shot and killed seven people, and injured 30 others who ranged in ages of 8 to 80. A grand jury indicted him on 117 counts, which include felony charges of murder, attempted murder and aggravated battery. In August 2022, Crimo pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Crimo was able to purchase the Smith & Wesson M&P15 (military and police) semiautomatic assault rifle used in the attack from Bud’s Gun Shop online in June 2020 with the help of his father, who sponsored his son’s Firearm Owners Identification card application, according to court documents.

The family’s attorney, Antonio Romanucci, said in a press release that the two gun stores negligently and illegally sold the murder weapon. Romanucci is a founding partner at Romanucci & Blandin, LLC, a law firm representing the victims which announced the lawsuits Wednesday.

“Bud’s Gun Shop sold the M&P assault rifle to the shooter despite the fact that it is illegal for residents of Highwood, Illinois and Highland Park, Illinois to acquire and possess assault weapons,” the Roberts family said in the lawsuit.

Court documents state Bud’s Gun Shop shipped the gun to Red Dot Arms, a gun dealer located in Illinois, which transferred the assault rifle to the shooter. In summer 2020, Red Dot Arms transferred the M&P rifle to the shooter after conducting a background check and verifying the ID. The lawsuit alleges that Bud’s Gun Shop knew Crimo’s address because it was on the purchasing order.

“Both companies knew the shooter’s address, and thus knew that they were selling an assault rifle to a resident of a municipality that prohibited the possession of such weapons. Nevertheless, they proceeded with the sale and transfer, enabling the shooter to carry out his deadly mission,” the family said in the lawsuit.

A representative for Bud’s Gun Shop did not immediately return a phone call requesting comment Thursday.

Crimo purchased the firearm when he was 19 years old with the help of his father who signed his then-minor son’s application card for a firearm owners ID card, according to court records. At that time, the father signed a sworn affidavit stating he accepted any damages resulting for the use of the firearm or ammunition.

The Roberts family alleges the father knew his son was violent based on previous incidents. Court documents state police were called to Crimo’s home nearly 20 times between 2009 and 2014 and the shooter “long demonstrated an interest in guns and other violent weapons.”

Court documents state that similar firearms produced by Smith & Wesson were used in other mass shootings, including in Aurora, Colo., San Bernardino, Calif., and Parkland, Fla.

The Roberts family claims the defendants violated the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act and the Illinois Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act. They also allege counts of negligence on behalf of the defendants, aiding and abetting, battery, assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

The family is suing the companies for an amount necessary to compensate them for their damages, which exceed the jurisdictional minimum of the law division of the Circuit Court in Lake County, Illinois, plus additional fees and costs of bringing the lawsuit.

In addition to the Roberts family, nearly 40 others are suing the defendants, including the estates of Nicholas Toledo, Steven Strauss and Jacki Sundheim, who were each killed in the shooting. Lauren Bennett, Terrie Bennett, Lorena Rebollar Sedano, Mirna Rodriguez, Michael Zeifert, Amelia Ternorio and Silvia Vegera are all suing after they were shot and injured. Thirty others who suffered emotional distress are also suing, according to Romanucci & Blandin, LLC., a law firm representing the survivors.

Toledo, who was killed in the shooting, was in town visiting his grandchildren. Strauss was also killed in the accident. He was 88 working as a stockbroker and left behind a wife and two sons. Lauren Bennett was shot twice in her back. Her mother-in-law, Terri, was shot in the arm. Her mother, Debbie Samuels, was also shot, according to the news release from Romanucci & Blandin.

Romanucci & Blandin released the Roberts’ filed complaint online.

“The community in and around Highland Park has been devastated by this tragic shooting and too many lives have been lost or forever changed,” said Antonio M. Romanucci, founding partner at Romanucci & Blandin, LLC. “Parents and grandparents lost their lives while simply trying to spend time with their families, others were shot and seriously wounded, including one young boy who has paid the highest price and will never ride his bike or run again.

“The use of a Smith & Wesson M&P15 for this nefarious purpose was predictable and preventable and there must be accountability for the corporate decisions that incubated this tragedy, clearly dismissing public safety while bringing in record earnings. With this litigation we intend to end the Smith & Wesson manipulation of consumers.”