Friday, December 14, 2012

Anatomy Of Another "Law-Abiding" Gun Owner Turned Mass Murderer

This Tuesday, December 11, just before 5PM, around ten-thousand men, women, and children were shopping and socializing at the Clackamas Town Center mall, near Portland, Oregon.  Santa had a line of children with shy gift wishes.  A woman was shopping for a hat for her young son.  A man was setting up a business kiosk.  A teen girl was socializing with friends.  Throngs hustled through the corridors, looking for just the right Christmas present.  It was a moment reflected in thousands of malls and shopping centers all over the country.  The holidays were on their minds, not thoughts of gun violence or the 84 people lost to guns every day in America.

But that changed in an instant.

Jake Roberts, another "law abiding" gun owner --
until he wasn't
By all accounts, 22-year-old Jacob Tyler Roberts was a fun and pleasant young man.  One acquaintance had only good things to say about Roberts:

An acquaintance of Roberts (who just wanted to go by her first name, Brittany), said she remembers the young man as jovial, popular and nice to classmates at Milwaukie High School. She said he loved skateboarding. 
She saw no indicators of any problems in high school, nor in seeing recent updates of him on Facebook. 
“I am as astonished as anybody. I would have never, ever, ever thought this would happen,” she said. “As far as I knew, he was happy.” 

She said Roberts was never a loner and never showed any signs of violence. She said she had a couple classes with him toward the beginning and middle of high school, but lost track of him by senior year. 

"He was a popular guy. Lots of people liked him, loved him. He was really nice,” she said. “He had so many friends."....
"It's just weird," said Ken Hargove, who partied with Roberts. "Four days ago we were hanging out with the guy. We had a drink with him, were laughing and having fun, you know, and then all of a sudden we heard this happened."

His mother described him as "loving and caring."  A co-workers said of Roberts, "He seemed fine. ... He's always a very even-keeled kid." A friend of Roberts' boss said, "He was always just joking around with customers. ... I've never seen him act out of hand or poorly toward anyone."  Neighbors and friends described him as happy, nice, and normal.  Officials at his old high school said of him, "He was known as a soft spoken and polite young man who was often eager to be helpful."  His ex-girlfriend said of him, "Jake was never the violent type.  His main goal was to make you laugh, smile, make you feel comfortable."

But while there seemed to be no obvious warning signs, Roberts was aimless and adriftAccording to his mother, Roberts had failed to enter the Marines after high school due to a foot injury, then changed his demeanor and quit talking to her.  After the injury, "[E]verything kind of fell apart for him," according to a family friend.  At the end of November, he abruptly quit his job at a sub shop.  According to his roommate, Roberts sold nearly all of his belongings and announced that he would be flying away to Hawaii, citing an inheritance.  But they never saw the plane tickets or any sign of an inheritance.
Screencap of a photo from Jake Roberts' Facebook page

The only odd moment Riley could recall came about six months ago when she and her boyfriend were at Roberts' apartment "and he was pulling out guns and showing them to us." 
She recalled seeing two handguns and what might have been a .22-caliber rifle. 
Still, Riley didn't find it alarming. Roberts said he used them for target practice out in the hills, she recalled.
Eshbach said Roberts had bought a pistol about a year ago, and used to shoot it in the woods when he went camping. 
"A lot of people are thinking he was fixated on things like that. That couldn't be further from the truth," Eshbach said.

Screencap from Jake Roberts' Facebook Page
Roberts' Facebook page didn't really fixate on guns or extremism.  Just a weird profile header suggesting "cancelled" dreams, a mention of "shooting" as an interest, and a single picture of him doing target shooting with a handgun.

But this fateful Tuesday, there was an unfortunate juncture of Roberts' aimlessness and his interest in shooting and guns.

There were few warning signs, even at the end.  His roommate said he left with "a weird look on his face."  A neighbor said he was carrying a guitar case and tore out of the driveway in his 1996 green Volkswagen Jetta. 

Roberts then, according to his roommate, stopped by his best friend's home:

"He came in and hung out for a minute and told him that he had to go and that he didn't want to," she said, and added that he gave her brother a bracelet that he always wore, and hugged him. "He told him he was just going somewhere south, somewhere warm and not to tell me or my boyfriend that he had left until the next day."

Kristina Shevchenko, age 15, wounded
Jake Roberts:  An aimless young man with an interest in guns, with no job and no future, sells off all of his things, makes wild statements about going away somewhere exotic, and then gives away a precious gift.  Sounds to me like a person about to commit suicide.  Why didn't anyone wonder this?

Obviously, he had more in mind than just suicide. 

And inside that guitar case, apparently, was an AR-15 semi-auto assault rifle that he had stolen from someone he knew.  I wonder:  Was the gun legally obtained by that other person? How was it secured? Had they bothered to keep it locked?  Was the theft reported to the police?  Did they notice it missing at all?

Why are such weapons even legal at all?

And then Roberts arrived at the Clackamas Town Center mall, donned a hockey mask and load-bearing vest filled with multiple ammo clips, and loaded his assault rifle.  He then walked into Macy's, proclaimed "I am the shooter," and opened fire, going store-to-store and through the food court. (HERE is a chronology)

When the shooting had stopped, and ten thousand panicked shoppers had cleared the building, the sad results were clear:  Steve Forsyth, 45, a kids' sports coach, father of two, and owner of a marketing business had been setting up a business kiosk and was shot to death. Cindy Ann Yuille, 54, a hospice care professional who had a wide network of friends, had been shopping for a hat for her 13-year old stepson.  Despite the best efforts of medical professionals who were in the crowds, she died from her wounds.  And a 15-year old girl, Kristina Shevchenko, who had been socializing with friends, was shot in the chest and critically injured with a punctured lung.  Luckily, it appears she will survive.

The only thing that seemed to have stopped the carnage was that his gun jammed.
Steve Forsyth and Cindy Ann Yuille, killed

And Jake Roberts, who had just a short while earlier said his last goodbye to his best friend, ran through some back corridors, then shot himself to death.  Law enforcement found him dead 22 minutes after the first 911 call.  It was an inglorious end to an aimless life.

Today, the blood is cleaned up and the Clackamas Town Center will re-open.  A candlelight vigil will be held.  The bullet holes will be filled.  The NRA will refuse to comment, while sympathetic pundits will repeat NRA talking points about arming everyone as a "solution."  And, with the exception of four families broken with grief, society will move on, trying to forget about the other 81 people who died from gunfire that day ... until the next aimless, suicidal gun owner commits the next shocking mass murder.