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Q&A: Clackamas Town Center Shooter Planned His Attack

OPB | May 1, 2013 3:24 p.m. | Updated: May 1, 2013 8:47 p.m. | Portland

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The man who opened fire in Clackamas Town Center last December appears to have planned his attack several days in advance — according to a Clackamas County Sheriff’s investigation.

It found that Jacob Roberts bought bullets days before the shooting. He broke up with his girlfriend, quit his job and told friends he was going to Hawaii.

Kristian Foden-Vencil has been looking through the 900-page sheriff’s department report and joins me now. Good afternoon.

Kristian: Hi

Beth: Among the documents the sheriff’s office released was a time line of events leading up to the shooting.  Can you give us some of the details of what it includes?

Kristian: Yes.   Roberts was 22.  The investigation found he had no criminal history, no relationship to any victim, no known ties to the mall, no history of violence and no diagnosis of mental illness.

10 days before the shooting, he voluntarily broke up with his girlfriend, telling her he’s moving to Hawaii. A few days after that he tells his boss the same thing and quits.

He says goodbye to his co-workers. Three days before the shooting, he buys ammunition, ear plugs and paper targets at a local big-box retailer. The next day he buys more ammo and puts his car on Craigslist.

The same day, his roommates return from a trip and are surprised to find he’s still around. Roberts tells them he overslept and missed his flight to Hawaii — but he’s still planning to go.

On December 11th — the day of the shooting — he meets a friend at a restaurant and goes back to his home, where they drink beer and smoke pot.  The friend showed him his AR-15, which Roberts had already seen a couple of months earlier.

Sometime between 5 in the morning and noon, Roberts steals the gun. It was not locked up.

At 3 in the afternoon, Roberts visits a friend who lives a couple of miles away from the mall. They smoke a little pot. Roberts then leaves and within quarter of an hour, he enters the mall wearing a mask, gloves and earplugs.

He’s carrying a rifle and 145 rounds of ammunition. At about 3:30, he shoots Cindy Yuille, Kristin Shevchenko, then Steven Forsyth.

He fires 13 more rounds that didn’t  hit anyone.

Beth: What about motive?

Kristian: Well that’s what everybody wants to know. Here’s what Clackamas County Sheriff’s Lieutenant James Rhodes had to say.

James Rhodes: “There was no indication given to any of his friends that he had any intention of this. There was no talk of motive or desire to do anything.”

Kristian: I also asked him about Roberts’ plan — was he planning to commit suicide? Or was he hoping to get away?

James Rhodes: “I don’t know his intention, because he didn’t make that known to us, he didn’t leave a note, he didn’t make that known to anybody that we’ve interviewed. But it’s fair to assume that if you’re going to wear a mask to conceal your identity, gloves to conceal your fingerprints, foam ear plugs to protect your hearing perhaps. That those are the actions of somebody who intends to escape from the scene. And my belief and what we’ve learned from the investigation is the rapid response from law enforcement cornered him in a service corridor and prevented him from escaping or doing harm to anybody else.”

Kristian: Roberts shot himself in that service corridor.

Beth: How about a person who said after the shooting that he had had a concealed weapon in mall?  Did that play into what happened that day?

Kristian: Well police didn’t want to talk about that. They just referred me to the report. In it, there’s an account of a man named Nick Meli who told them he was outside Macy’s when he heard gunshots.

He says the shooter ran towards him so he took cover behind a pillar. Meli said the shooter’s gun appeared to malfunction, so he stepped out, drew his weapon and pointed it at the shooter. Meli told investigators he was going to pull the trigger but saw someone move inside a store behind the shooter.

He was worried that if he were to shoot and miss, he could hit someone. So he decided not to pull the trigger.

Meli said when the shooter turned to look at him, he backed up into Macy’s and told people to take cover.

One deputy, Mark Nikolai, corroborated part of Meli’s story.

Nikolai says he found Meli in the mall holding a handgun. After a few tense moments while Meli explained who he was, Nikolai told him to leave the mall.

Beth: I understand there were up to 10,ooo people in the mall at the time. And you said Roberts had 145 rounds on him. Why do police think the loss wasn’t even worse than it was.

Kristian: That’s a question that a lot of people have asked. Here’s what Clackamas County Sheriff Lieutenant James Rhodes had to say.

James Rhodes: “He had some malfunctions with his rifle, that he was ultimately able to fix. But regardless of that, he had very limited targets, people ran. And then secondly credit goes to the Clackamas Town Center for the exceptional training and all the store owners and employees who did the right thing. They closed up the shops, they sheltered and hid people. Again making it harder for him to find people. And then to my brothers and sisters in law enforcement for their tremendous and almost immediate response who flooded that mall and in less than two minutes were in that mall and had the suspect cornered in a service corridor. so at that point he had no other targets, no place to go, we had him cornered in a service corridor where he had nothing else to do but surrender or in this case, take his own life.”

Kristian: So, just a few details on the gun.

It belonged to Roberts’ friend, Sean Cates, who purchased it legally in 2011. Cates told police he woke up at 4 o’clock that afternoon, after the shooting, and found the rifle wasn’t there.

Cates called 911 at about 7 o’clock that evening — after learning about the shooting — to report the gun as stolen. Police have now closed the investigation, but say they’re still open to anyone who calls with additional information.


A .pdf of the 926-page report from the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office

The department also released a  7-page .pdf with a timeline and other details about the case

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