PORTLAND – Before Jacob Tyler Roberts walked into a mall wearing a hockey-style mask, firing gunshots that killed two people and injured a teenage girl, he visited the brother of his roommate, hugged him and told him he was going “somewhere south, somewhere warm,” police say.
The roommate, 26-year-old Jaime Eheler, also said Roberts “had a weird look on his face” when he left the house they shared.
Hours later, three people were dead, including Roberts, who shot himself after the Tuesday rampage.
Although officials have not revealed a motive, a clearer picture of Roberts is emerging. According to his aunt, a foot injury prevented him from joining the Marines. He enjoyed skydiving and once wanted to be a smokejumper, according to Eheler. His mother died of cancer when he was young, he left his aunt’s house as a teenager and lived with Eheler’s family for a while, and he had told friends of plans to live in Hawaii for a year.
“I never saw this young man raise his voice,” Eheler said, sobbing. “I’ve seen him sad, I’ve seen him hurt. I’ve never seen him mad.”
The Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office said Roberts had several fully loaded magazines when he arrived at the mall Tuesday as thousands did their Christmas shopping. Roberts parked his 1996 Volkswagen Jetta in front of the second-floor entrance to Macy’s and walked through the store into the mall and began firing randomly in the food court, authorities said.
He fatally shot Steven Mathew Forsyth, 45, and Cindy Ann Yuille, 54, the sheriff said. Kristina Shevchenko, 15, was wounded and was in serious condition Thursday.
Eheler said Roberts had recently quit his job at a gyro shop in Portland, sold all of his belongings and put his car up for sale on Craigslist in advance of his planned move to Hawaii.
She said his decision to move to the islands caught her by surprise, but only a little bit. He told her he planned to live off the interest of an inheritance that he had invested, and that he planned to return on Oct. 25, 2013.
“He’s adventurous,” Eheler said. “That’s who he is.”
Roberts’ ex-girlfriend, Hannah Patricia Sansburn, told ABC’s “World News with Diane Sawyer” that he was supposed to catch a flight Saturday but he got drunk and missed it.
The owner of Big Bertha’s, a sandwich shop where Roberts most recently worked, threw a going away party for him last week.
“His nickname there at the shop was ‘The Kid,’ ” said Thomas Illk, father of Tommy Illk, who owns the shop. “Tommy is just devastated. He was like a little brother to him.”
Police said Roberts had stolen an AR-15 rifle from someone he knew. Authorities said that after the shootings, he fled along a mall corridor and into a back hallway, down stairs and into a corner where police found him dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot.
The shooting confounds Eheler. She said she knew that Roberts had gone target shooting in the past, but there were no guns in her house and she’d never seen him with one.
“I can’t wrap my mind around it. I can’t understand,” she said. “I sit here and think, and I think, and I think, and I can’t come up with one reason why he would do this.”
Eheler said she later learned that Roberts had stopped at her brother Tyler’s home on the way to the mall. Tyler Eheler and Roberts had been best friends since high school, she said.
“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.”
Eheler said her brother was devastated and was not granting interviews.
Another friend who said she had known Roberts since middle school, Shania Riley, described Roberts as a “very compassionate and very caring person.”
She said everything seemed fine when she saw him at a bar last week. 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 a rifle.
Benjamin Eshbach, who played chess with Roberts, 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.
The aunt who raised Roberts said her heart is breaking for the victims.
Tami Roberts became Roberts’ guardian when his mother died shortly before his third birthday. The two had a falling out when he turned 18, and had not spoken in four years.
Tami Roberts said she tried to contact him many times but declined to say why he refused to speak with her.
Court documents show Tami Roberts misappropriated $18,000 that Jacob Roberts received in an inheritance from his grandmother when he was a young teen. She said that was not the reason for the estrangement.
Tami Roberts showed reporters numerous photos from happier times, including one showing the pair with matching tattoos. She said a foot injury five years ago dashed his hopes of joining the Marines.