Ore. Gunman Described as Polite, Soft-Spoken

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Dec. 13 2012 9:47 AM

"It Seemed Like He Was Doing Well. What Changed in His Head?"

acob Tyler Roberts poses in this undated photo in an unspecified loaction

Photo by Clackamas Co. Sheriff's Office

The Oregonian and its reporters are continuing to piece together the story of 22-year-old Jacob Tyler Roberts, the masked gunman who opened fire at a Portland-area mall on Tuesday, killing two people and injuring a third before turning the gun on himself:

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

Roberts shared big plans with friends. He told an ex-girlfriend that he was going to buy the Southeast Portland sandwich shop where he worked. He mentioned to a former roommate that he was moving to Hawaii. And he told others that he had just inherited a lot of money. But days after he was supposed to fly away to his new life, the 22-year-old Portland man instead drove to Clackamas Town Center.

The paper's reporting suggests that no one close to Roberts saw any indication that he was capable of the type of violence that was on display Tuesday. He was said to be soft-spoken, polite, and funny by those who knew him in high school. One former classmate told the paper that "all he cared about was making people laugh" and described him as someone who would go out of his way to help elderly neighbors carrying groceries. Police, too, have yet to find anything in Roberts' past to suggest he was violent or posed a threat. With the exception of two speeding tickets from earlier this year and eviction proceedings from this summer, he left little in the way of a paper trail in the state legal system.

Still, according to those who knew him, Roberts appeared to go through some type of change in recent months. He broke up with his girlfriend over the summer and quit his job at a sandwich shop last month. He had recently suggested he was going to use a large inheritance he had received to take a trip to Hawaii, where he was considering moving for good. That decision seemed "sudden" in the words of one friend but at the same time not completely out of the ordinary for someone his age. "He had nothing to tie him down," said another.

A third friend the paper interviewed said that she had known Roberts since they were middle school classmates and that they had remained close through this past summer, when he moved out of a neighboring apartment and the two lost touch. "It seemed like he was doing well," she said. "What changed in his head?"

You can read the full Oregonian story here. Obviously reporters, police and everyone else are still trying to piece together the larger picture of what prompted Roberts to do what he did. These are just the first several brush strokes in a larger portrait that will likely develop over the weeks and months to come.

Still, the simple fact that the paper was able to find so many people who knew Roberts stands out when compared to the picture of James Holmes that took shape in the immediate aftermath of his mass shooting at a Colorado movie theater this summer. In that case, a team of New York Times reporters pounded the pavement in and around Aurora looking for people to talk about Holmes and all they could find were a dozen or so people with only a passing connection to him.


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