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Jacob Roberts: a perplexing path from big dreamer to mall shooter (+video)

What prompted Jacob Roberts, outwardly a young man with a happy personality and big dreams, to go on a shooting rampage at a mall in suburban Portland, Ore.? As police investigate, many who knew him scratch their heads.

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Something apparently happened to Jacob Tyler Roberts, a big-dreaming, fun-loving 22-year-old, before he pulled a semiautomatic rifle out of a guitar case and opened fire inside a packed Portland, Ore., mall in the middle of the Christmas rush – but what?

Friends and relatives of the man identified as the masked gunman who injured a teenager and killed two people – Cindy Ann Yuille and Steven Forsyth – say it's impossible to reconcile the senseless violence at the Clackamas Town Center late Tuesday with their image of Roberts – a young man who had told everyone he was ready to embark on an adventurous future.

But outward appearances, even in mass shootings in which the perpetrators had no history of mental instability, are often deceptive, criminologists say. As more information becomes known about Roberts's past and his family situation, the puzzling portrait of him that has emerged so far may start to become clearer, says Scott Belshaw, a criminal justice professor at the University of North Texas, in Denton.

"With guys like this, there's a lot going on that's cooking inside them way before the incident happens," says Mr. Belshaw. "The most that can be said at this point is that younger people like Jake Roberts tend to be in transition, and when they lose something it can come down pretty hard."

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