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Trump Shooter Remains Elusive Enigma   07/17 06:11

   

   BETHEL PARK, Pa. (AP) -- After three days, an enigmatic portrait emerged of 
the 20-year-old man who came close to killing former President Donald Trump 
with a high-velocity bullet: He was an intelligent loner with few friends, an 
apparently thin social media footprint and no hints of strong political beliefs 
that would suggest a motive for an attempted assassination.

   Even after the FBI cracked into Thomas Matthew Crooks' cellphone, scoured 
his computer, home and car, and interviewed more than 100 people, the mystery 
of why he opened fire on Trump's rally Saturday, a bullet grazing the GOP 
nominee's ear, remained as elusive as the moment it happened.

   "He sat by himself, didn't talk to anyone, didn't even try to make 
conversation," said 17-year-old Liam Campbell, echoing the comments of 
classmates who remembered the shooter in this quiet community outside of 
Pittsburgh. "He was an odd kid," but nothing about him seemed dangerous, he 
added. "Just a normal person who seemed like he didn't like talking to people."

   So far, there has been no public disclosure the shooter left any writings, 
suicide note, social media screed or any other indicator explaining his reasons 
for targeting Trump. A law enforcement official briefed on the ongoing 
investigation told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity that Crooks' 
phone had not immediately yielded any meaningful clues related to motive, or 
whether he acted alone or with others.

   Crooks' political leanings were also hazy. Crooks was registered as a 
Republican in Pennsylvania, but federal campaign finance reports also show he 
gave $15 to a progressive political action committee on Jan. 20, 2021, the day 
Democratic President Joe Biden was sworn into office.

   The absence of a satisfactory explanation has led Homeland Security 
Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to recount the lengthy federal investigation into 
the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, the deadliest such attack in the nation's 
history. That probe closed after 17 months without finding any motive for what 
drove the 64-year-old gunman to spray more than 1,000 rounds into a crowd of 
concertgoers other than to "attain a certain degree of infamy."

   Crooks, with a slight build, wire-rimmed glasses and thin hair parted in the 
middle, went by "Tom." He was described by classmates at Bethel Park High 
School as smart but standoffish, often seen wearing headphones and preferring 
to sit alone at lunch looking at his phone. Some said he was often mocked by 
other students for the clothes he wore, which included hunting outfits, and for 
continuing to wear a mask after the COVID pandemic was over.

   "He was bullied almost every day," said classmate Jason Kohler. "He was just 
an outcast."

   After graduating from high school in 2022, Crooks went on to the Community 
College of Allegheny County, earning an associate's degree with honors in 
engineering science in May. He also worked at a nursing home as a dietary aide.

   A 1997 Secret Service study into those who had attempted assassinations 
since 1949 found there was no single indicator that a person might seek to take 
the life of a public figure. However, two-thirds of all attackers were 
described as "social isolates."

   Like Crooks, few had any history of violent crime or criminal records. Most 
attackers also had histories of handling weapons, but no formal weapons or 
military training, according to the study.

   As a freshman, Crooks had tried out for his high school rifle team but was 
rejected for poor marksmanship, the AP previously reported. Through his family, 
he was a member of the Clairton Sportsmen's Club, a shooting range about 11 
miles (17 kilometers) east of Bethel Park.

   "We know very little about him," club president Bill Sellitto told the AP. 
"That was a terrible, terrible thing that happened Saturday -- that's not what 
we're about by any means."

   The club has an outdoor range for high-powered rifles with targets set at 
distances of up to 170 meters (187 yards).

   Crooks was well within that range when he opened fire on Trump Saturday from 
about 135 meters (147 yards) from where Trump was speaking, unleashing two 
quick volleys of rounds at the former president with an AR-15 style rifle.

   His father, Matthew Crooks, bought the gun in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania, in 
2013 from Gander Mountain, a retail outdoors chain.

   The day before the shooting, Thomas Crooks went to the sportsman's club and 
practiced on the rifle range, according to a federal intelligence briefing 
obtained by the AP. On the day of the attack, he purchased 50 rounds of 5.56mm 
ammo for his rifle from a local gun shop and drove alone to Butler, 
Pennsylvania, the site of the Trump rally.

   He parked at a gas station lot about a third of a mile from the event. He 
wore a gray T-shirt with the logo of a popular YouTube channel dedicated to 
firearms, camo shorts and a black belt.

   Witnesses and law enforcement officials say Crooks walked around for at 
least a half-hour before climbing onto the roof of a building adjacent to the 
Butler Farm Show grounds, where Trump was speaking. As spectators screamed for 
police to respond, Crooks opened fire, letting loose two quick bursts. A Secret 
Service counter sniper fired back within about 15 seconds, killing Crooks with 
a shot to the head.

   Trump said this week that one bullet clipped his right ear, and that only a 
last-second turn of his head kept him from potentially being mortally wounded. 
One of the bullets aimed toward Trump killed 50-year-old firefighter Corey 
Comperatore, a spectator who was in the bleachers. Two others were seriously 
wounded.

   Without clear insight into what drove Crooks, many on both sides of the 
American political divide tried to fill the void with their own partisan 
assumptions, evidence-free speculations and conspiracy theories in the days 
since the shooting.

   Some Republicans have pointed at Democrats for labeling Trump a threat to 
democracy. Democrats, in turn, pointed to Crooks' GOP registration and to 
Trump's own long history of provocative rhetoric, including his continued 
praise of the Jan. 6 rioters.

   Access to the Crooks home remained blocked by yellow police tape, with 
officers keeping watch and preventing reporters from approaching.

   Melanie Maxwell, who lives in the neighborhood, was dropping off "Trump 
2024" lawn signs at another neighbor's home.

   Like the others, she didn't know the Crooks family well. She said she was 
appalled by the assault and said any security lapses should be fully 
investigated.

   "The hand of God protected President Trump," she said.

 
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