Manhunt for teen ends in mayhem
New Bedford suspect kills officer, woman in Ark. shootout, officials say
The New Bedford teenager wanted in last week's attack in a gay bar gunned down a small-town police officer in Arkansas yesterday, led authorities on a highway chase, fatally shot a female passenger in his car, and then was shot by police, authorities said.
Jacob D. Robida, 18, was in critical condition last night in a hospital in Springfield, Mo. He was shot twice in the head, and Bristol District Attorney Paul Walsh Jr. said he was not sure Robida would survive. Though Robida is yet to be charged, killing a police officer is a capital offense in Arkansas.
''He had a death wish," Walsh said last night. ''He didn't care about who he hurt."
Robida was last seen early Thursday at Puzzles Lounge in New Bedford, where patrons say he asked a bartender, ''Is this a gay bar?" then swung a hatchet and fired a Ruger handgun, seriously injuring three men. After he fled, police launched a nationwide manhunt.
Police are still piecing together his travels during the last three days. But they said that at some point in West Virginia, he picked up Jennifer Rena Bailey, 33, of Charleston, W. Va., whom authorities described as an acquaintance, and the two headed west in his green 1999 Pontiac Grand Am.
Around 2:30 p.m. yesterday, Gassville, Ark., Police Officer Jim Sell stopped Robida's Pontiac outside the Brass Door, a motel in that town of 1,714 in the high plains of the Ozark Mountains, 1,500 miles from New Bedford. It's not clear why Sell stopped the car, Walsh said. Robida's Massachusetts's license plate had been replaced by Kentucky plates.
As Sell stepped out of his cruiser and walked toward Robida's car, Robida opened fire with the same handgun he used in the attack at Puzzles, Walsh said. Sell was taken away by ambulance and later pronounced dead.
A few miles from Gassville, an Arkansas state trooper heard over his radio that an officer had been shot. As the trooper headed toward the Brass Door, a second radio report said the suspect had fled. Robida was heading north toward another small town called Mountain Home. He then turned south on Highway 201, where the trooper and a Baxter County sheriff's deputy gave chase.
Arkansas State Police spokesman Bill Sadler said Robida may have been firing at the cruisers on the highway. Robida led them for 16 miles, then State Police laid spike strips across the highway and punctured the Pontiac's tires. Robida continued to drive with deflated tires into downtown Norfork, where he crashed into a parked car, Sadler said.
Both the trooper and the sheriff's deputies opened fire on Robida's Pontiac, Walsh said at a press conference in New Bedford last night.
''Before they opened fire on him, he shoots and kills the woman who was sitting next to him, he was shot through the windshield, and he was shooting back," Walsh said.
New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang praised the police in Gassville and Norfork and said he had spoken to officials in the Baxter County sheriff's office. ''His officers were involved in absolutely the finest type of police work," Lang said.
Robida had not been formally charged with any crimes as of last night. Police in Massachusetts have labeled the attack at the gay bar a hate crime and said Robida would be charged with attempted murder, assault, and civil rights violations. Last night, Arkansas troopers went to the hospital where he had been taken, and planned to interview doctors and determine whether he could be charged as soon as tomorrow.
Police had few details last night of Robida and Bailey's relationship, but West Virigina State Police said he had been ''involved" with her. Attempts to reach her family last night were unsuccessful. Records indicated she had last lived on the west side of Charleston, a poorer area on the edge of the city.
Walsh said he talked to Robida's mother last night, who he said was distraught to learn of her son's bloody confrontation with police.
''She was very gracious to law enforcement and disturbed by what had happened," he said.
Authorities may never learn what motivated the young high school dropout to unleash such violence, Walsh said.
Sounding resigned, Walsh said: ''I think the outcome was predictable. This man was more dangerous today than he was three days ago when the New Bedford shootings occurred."
The end of the hunt for Robida brought relief in New Bedford, where the mayor and the police chief personally delivered the news to patrons at Puzzles Lounge. In Baxter County, residents mourned, horrified at the bloodshed.
''It just goes to show you that crime and evilness can swarm even on a small town and devastate us and throw us to our knees," said Pam Sullins, 54, a friend of Sell's.
In New Bedford, police who had searched Robida's home, where he lived with his parents, found homemade posters disparaging African-Americans and Jews; neo-Nazi literature and skinhead paraphernalia; a makeshift coffin; and an empty knife sheath. In the city, Robida, who had swastika tattoos, had surrounded himself with other teenagers who cut a similarly intimidating profile, residents said.
He also cultivated friends online, using the nickname ''Jake Jekyll" on the popular website myspace.com. Those friends told reporters they were startled when he was linked to the New Bedford attack, and said he had never spoken ill of gays.
Last night, at Puzzles, bartender Tom MacNeil said one of Robida's alleged victims, Robert Perry, had returned to the bar when New Bedford's mayor and police chief arrived and told him that Robida had been captured.
Perry, 52, a paramedic and father of four, had been shot in the back and slashed in the face during Thursday night's attack.
''It was emotional . . . there was hugging," MacNeil said of the relief that swept through the bar last night. ''He was very happy. Hopefully we can put it behind us," said MacNeil. ''Hopefully the legal system will do its job."
Scott Allen, Maria Cramer and Russell Nichols of the Globe staff, and Globe correspondent Cyra Master contributed to this report.