Jacob Roberts planned big life changes before this week’s shooting at a suburban mall in Oregon that left two people dead and another seriously injured: He quit his job, got rid of many belongings, and aimed to move to Hawaii.
“He was kind of leaving suddenly. I’ve seen that happen before, where stuff comes up in someone’s life, where they kind of need a fresh, clean break. So we thought nothing of it. It was, ‘Good luck on your new life. Enjoy Hawaii,’” said Holli Winchell, who socialized frequently with Roberts in the bars and restaurants of southeast Portland.
Something went wrong, though, and Roberts didn’t make it onto the plane for Hawaii. The next thing his friends heard, he was dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound Tuesday after shouting, “I am the shooter!” and opening fire, authorities say, with a semiautomatic assault rifle at the Clackamas Town Center mall, which was packed with Christmas shoppers.
Roberts’ Facebook page left what may be one of the only clues to his mind-set: a picture of a graffiti-covered wall with the words, “Follow Your Dreams,” marked out with another word in large red letters: “Cancelled.” It had been uploaded Oct. 3.
Authorities believe that Roberts, 22, who proudly claimed to work at a “badass” sandwich shop and whom friends described as funny and good-natured most of the time, rushed into the mall carrying a stolen AR-15 rifle along with magazines of ammunition and sprayed shoppers in the food court before his weapon momentarily jammed. He retreated down a service stairwell.
Retailers herded panicked shoppers to safety behind locked doors as more than 100 police officers swarmed toward the mall. Casualties were remarkably few, Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts told reporters Wednesday, because of quick thinking by those present and the many drills police had conducted imagining the unthinkable.
“Ten thousand people in the mall at one time kept a level head. They got themselves out of the mall, they helped others out, and there’s just a number of heroes that took the time to help people get out.... It was really a whole lot of people coming together to make a difference,” the sheriff said.
Police have not been able to discern any warnings that the young man was headed for violence, nor any signs that he had help in the rampage, Sheriff Roberts said.
“Every indication we have is that he acted solely on his own in carrying out this heinous, horrible, tragic crime,” he said.
Young Roberts gave no sign of anything amiss to his friends — at least as far as Winchell was able to tell after talking with co-workers and other friends who were part of their casual group.
“None of my friends, even ones who are very close with him, none of them seem to know what happened. He’d had some small stuff come up in his life, nothing major, but just maybe he wanted to get out of Portland, and it was kind of a convenient time to leave,” Winchell said.
“It’s the type of community where if somebody had known, if he had talked to somebody, there were resources out there and friends that would have been able to help him,” she said. “The only thing I could think of was he had something going on in his head that was a lot deeper than any of us could have imagined.”
Brandon Froom said he considered Roberts “a good friend,” but saw no signs of anything wrong.
“He never spoke much of his personal life. He was entertaining. He made a lot of jokes, always presented a positive mood,” he said. “I don’t know what snapped in him, but he was always good to people. And it saddens me that he acted out the way he did, for whatever reason he had.”
On his Facebook page, Roberts described himself as “a pretty funny person that takes sarcasm to the max” and “the kind of person that is going to do what I want.”
“I’m the conductor of my choo choo train,” he wrote. “I may be young, but I have lived one crazy life so far.... I like to think of myself as a bit of an adrenaline junkie.... But I’m just looking to meet new people and see the world.”
The two victims killed — Steven Forsyth, 45, a youth sports coach who operated a kiosk at the mall, and Cindy Yuille, a 54-year-old hospice nurse — appear to have died right away. A third victim, Kristina Shevchenko, 15, was in serious condition with a gunshot wound to the chest and significant injuries to her lung and liver.
Authorities said a friend helped her get out of the mall to medics quickly.
“These were very serious, life-threatening injuries,” her surgeon, Laszlo Kiraly, told reporters at Oregon Health & Science University Hospital. “There is going to be a significant rehabilitation, but she is very young and healthy and … she is a fighter.”
Forsyth and his father had recently launched a business selling eco-friendly wood coasters at the mall, said Abraham Choe, who was supplying him with coasters produced under the University of Oregon trademark.
“He was very energetic, and I could tell he was ambitious, you know?” Choe said. “We’re young, fresh out of college, and this guy, he had this same kind of passion that young people had. That’s why we loved him. He had this, like, fire about him.”
Marijean Johnson of West Linn, Ore., said Forsyth coached youth football and basketball, and their sons were good friends. He was, she said, “an amazing man, very caring, very loving.…He was a man I could trust to take care of my child.”
Yuille had worked for Kaiser Permanente for 16 years, and her husband was also a nurse on the hospice care team.
A co-worker, Marcella Brady, called her “an amazing woman” who engaged easily with people.
She recounted a time when she joined Yuille and her husband on a vacation to Fiji and Cindy was seated apart from them during the flight.
By the time they landed, Brady said, Yuille had met someone from Fiji and gotten them an invitation to a Hindi wedding.
Yuille was outgoing, an avid runner and an “incredible hiker,” Brady said, not to mention “an excellent hospice nurse.”
Jacob Roberts’ mother didn’t take phone calls from reporters, but put out a handwritten statement on a sheet of spiral notebook paper.
“Tami Roberts wishes to express her shock and grief,” it said. “She has no understanding or explanation for her son’s behavior.... She is very sad and wants everyone to know that she is so sorry [for] what Jake did. It’s so out of his character.”
Murphy reported from Seattle, Pearce and Khouri from Los Angeles.