Updated Thursday, December 13, 2012 at 03:02 PM
CLACKAMAS, Ore. — Local law-enforcement officials expressed a kind of bleak gratitude Wednesday that a masked 22-year-old gunman armed with a semiautomatic rifle and extra magazines of ammunition did not kill or wound more people in an attack at a suburban Portland mall filled with holiday shoppers Tuesday afternoon.
A close friend and an ex-girlfriend of the gunman expressed shock that someone so mild-mannered in many ways could have suddenly turned into a killer.
Three people died in the assault, including the gunman — identified by the Clackamas County sheriff as Jacob Tyler Roberts — by suicide, as the police swarmed into the Clackamas Town Center Mall. But with as many as 10,000 people crowding the mall, the toll, the police and mall managers said, could have been far higher.
The semiautomatic AR-15 rifle that the authorities said Roberts carried — stolen Tuesday from someone Roberts knew — apparently jammed at one point, said Sheriff Craig Roberts (no relation to the shooter). Shoppers and store owners locked down and took shelter, and police arrived quickly — as many as 100 officers within minutes.
"Less time to harm others," Craig Roberts said in describing the attack's cumulative turning points of happenstance and training, at a news conference in Clackamas, southeast of Portland.
"We don't understand the motive for this attack," he added.
The victims were identified as Steve Forsyth, 45, a youth sports coach who owned a business in the mall, and Cindy Ann Yuille, 54, who was shopping. A third person, Kristina Shevchenko, 15, remained hospitalized in serious condition with at least one bullet wound, authorities said.
"Jake was never the violent type," Roberts' ex-girlfriend, Hannah Patricia Sansburn, told ABC News. "His main goal was to make you laugh, smile, make you feel comfortable." Sansburn said Jacob Roberts had recently quit his job at a gyro shop in Portland and sold all of his belongings, telling her he was moving to Hawaii. He was supposed to take a flight Saturday but told her he got drunk and missed it.
Jaime Eheler, a friend who was living with Jacob Roberts in Portland, said she had no answers either.
"I saw him yesterday, two or three hours before the shooting," said Eheler, 26. "He said he was going to help a friend move. It was around noon. Something was off. There was a strange look in his eyes, like a stone-cold look. It was not him."
Some details that emerged Wednesday — a drive to the mall; a crowded food court; a hurried walk inside, assault rifle in hand; screams and chaos in panicked search for shelter — were particular to the case but similar to other recent mass shootings, notably the movie-theater killings in Aurora, Colo., in July. In that rampage, the accused gunman's AR-15 also jammed, authorities believe, limiting the toll.
Based on witness interviews and mall surveillance tapes, authorities said Jacob Roberts arrived at the shopping center about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, wearing what they described as a "hockey-style mask" and outfitted with a load-bearing vest, which allowed him to carry more ammunition. He parked his 1996 Volkswagen Jetta near an entrance to the food court.
After firing as many as 60 rounds — despite the gun jam — he retreated to a corridor in the mall and turned the weapon on himself. Only one gun was recovered, Craig Roberts said.
The mall remained closed Wednesday.
Jacob Roberts had no known prior criminal history, authorities said. They said he had been a crime victim of some sort, but did not have more details.
His Facebook page offered a mixture of the ordinary — he liked the Beatles and the Pittsburgh Pirates — with hints of something darker.
He said he was an alcoholic, but then dismissed that statement with a joke. "I like to think of myself as a bit of an adrenaline junkie," he also wrote.
The cover photo on his Facebook page is of a wall that bears the phrase "Follow Your Dreams" with the word "Cancelled" over it. Among his "likes" were shooting.
Jacob Roberts' family life had been unsettled. Eheler said he had lived with her parents for a year or two and was friends with her brother. He had "chosen," she said, not to have a relationship with aunt Tami Roberts, who helped raise him after the death of his mother, from cancer, when he was a baby.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.
Jacob Tyler Roberts fatally shot himself.
Cindy Ann Yuille
CRAIG MITCHELLDYER / GETTY IMAGES
Flowers and candles sit outside the Clackamas Town Center mall on December 13, 2012 in Clackamas, Oregon.