By Lisa Keen
BOSTON — A teenager who allegedly attacked patrons of a gay bar in Massachusetts with a hatchet and a gun last week killed his ex-girlfriend and then himself after a shootout with police in Arkansas last weekend. Police had been pursuing Robida for fatally shooting an Arkansas police officer during a routine traffic stop.
Police in New Bedford, Massachusetts, designated the attack in the local gay bar Puzzles as a hate crime based on the report of a bartender who said the attacker, Jacob D. Robida, 18, asked him whether it was a gay bar.
After producing a fake identification indicating he was 23, Robida ordered two drinks and, within minutes, began attacking a patron with a small hatchet. As other patrons tried to intervene, Robida pulled out a handgun and started shooting. Robida fled the bar, and his mother told police he came home around 1 a.m. on Thursday, “bleeding from the head,” according to Associated Press. He then fled New Bedford, driving his mother’s Pontiac Grand Am.
News and police reports indicate Robida drove to Charleston, West Virginia, where he picked up an “ex-girlfriend,” Jennifer Bailey, 33, whom police say he met through the internet. At deadline, police were still uncertain whether Bailey willingly joined Robida. The mother of three young children apparently telephoned a friend, saying she knew Robida was fleeing arrest for the attack in Massachusetts and that she did not want him hiding out in her house. She also dropped her children off at her mother’s.
By Saturday, Robida and Bailey were in Arkansas. There, according to various reports, an Arkansas police officer stopped the Pontiac in the parking lot of a motel in the small, rural town of Gassville. A videotape from the officer’s car apparently captured Robida gunning down the officer. That sparked a police manhunt for Robida which led to a high-speed car chase that ended after police were able to disable his car. Robida reportedly then embraced Bailey and shot her in the head, killing her. He then started shooting at police officers, who initially believed they shot him in the head. An autopsy report, released Tuesday, indicated Robida killed himself.
Robida died from his wounds at a hospital in nearby Springfield, Missouri, on Sunday morning.
One of the three patrons wounded in the attack at the Massachusetts gay bar was a neighbor of Robida’s, but a spokesperson for the New Bedford district attorney’s office said there was no evidence to suggest that Robida went to the bar because of the neighbor.
A police warrant of items obtained from the bedroom he lived in at his mother’s residence in New Bedford included a number of items associated with white supremacy groups, but no specifically anti-gay literature or items. There is no indication on Robida’s personal webpage that suggests he was harboring any gay specific hostilities.
At deadline, police investigators were still trying to explain why Robida drove to Arkansas. Neither Robida nor Bailey had any known connections in Arkansas. But early press reports noted that Gassville, where he shot and killed 63-year-old Officer James Sell, is less than an hour away from the headquarters of a Ku Klux Klan leader, Thom Robb. Robb denied any knowledge or affiliation with Robida.
The state is also home to almost a dozen KKK affiliates. One, the “Kingdom Identity Ministries,” is also headquartered in Robb’s hometown of Harrison. Its website indicates that its members believe, among other things, that “Homosexuality is an abomination before God and should be punished by death.” The “Kingdom Identity” also identifies itself as part of the “Christian Identity” religious movement, a white supremacist organization whose followers included Eric Rudolph, who was sentenced to life for a number of 1996 bombings in Atlanta, including a gay bar.
There is no evidence reported thus far to link Robida to any KKK organization or affiliate. However, a search warrant listing items confiscated by police from Robida’s bedroom noted the presence of an “Aryan pin” and a variety of other symbols associated with the Nazi and white supremacy movements.
An Arkansas district attorney told reporters that Robida’s ex-girlfriend Bailey was dressed in attire associated with Goth, and CNN reported the Puzzles bartender as saying Robida wore a black hooded sweatshirt into the bar during the attack.
The bartender, Phillip Daggett, said Robida entered the New Bedford gay bar at about 11:30 on Wednesday night, February 1, and sat down at the bar. He said Robida wore a black hooded sweatshirt that covered his face and, though he looked young, produced an identification indicating he was 23. The drinking age in Massachusetts is 21.
Daggett told reporters Robida asked him whether Puzzles was a gay bar and that Daggett confirmed it was. He said Robida then ordered a rum drink, consumed it in about five minutes, then ordered a second drink and moved to the back of the bar where two men were playing pool. Daggett said Robida sat watching the men for about five minutes, then pulled out a hatchet and started clubbing one of the men over the head with it. When other patrons tried to intervene, Robida clubbed one of them with the hatchet, then pulled a gun and started shooting. He shot his first two victims in the head and then a third man, emerging from a restroom, in the abdomen.
One of the injured patrons has been released from the hospital, but the other two are still hospitalized in stable condition, according to a spokesperson for the district attorney’s office.
The Associated Press interviewed a gay friend of Robida’s who said she was not aware of Robida ever expressing hostility toward gays.
“I have no idea why he did this,” said the friend, Jennifer Crosby, 24, who identified herself as “part black and a lesbian.”