Decades of mental illness had complicated the life of Juston Root before he was shot and killed by police after a car chase that began at a Boston hospital and ended more than four miles away in Brookline Friday, his parents said.
“He was a pretty far out guy” with a fascination for space talk and aliens, God and religion, his father, Evan Root, told the Globe.
But at his core, “he was a very sensitive boy with a gentle soul,” Evan Root, of Ashland, said in a telephone interview Saturday.
“He sometimes felt like he had to put up a tough exterior, like a lot of gentle souls do, just to get along in the world — which isn’t always so gentle,” Evan Root said.
Juston Root, 41, of Mattapan, was identified by the Norfolk district attorney’s office as the man involved in a police confrontation at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston shortly after 9:20 a.m. Friday. A hospital valet was shot during the encounter.
Boston police responded to a 911 call reporting a person with a gun at the hospital.
A Boston police official, at a late afternoon news conference Friday, did not identify Root by name when he described a suspect who “pulled out and pointed directly at the responding officers what appeared to be a firearm.”
Authorities alleged that Root took an officer to the ground in a physical assault near the hospital. Police opened fire and the man limped to his car to make his getaway.
Video shot by an eyewitness at the hospital showed an injured man, dressed all in black, hobbling toward a car in the middle of the street with the driver’s door wide open. An officer in a bright yellow jacket took cover behind a nearby vehicle, the video showed.
At some point during those events, a hospital valet was shot. He was in good condition Saturday night, a hospital spokeswoman said.
Root had no connection to the valet company, VPNE Parking Solutions. He had never worked there or applied for a job there, the company’s president told the Globe Saturday.
Whether Root actually had a gun or fired one, police have not said. Nor did they know why Root was at the hospital Friday morning.
He did not have an appointment there nor was he being treated there, a hospital spokeswoman said.
Authorities offered no new information about the incident Saturday.
"We have a very active investigation going on from yesterday’s incident,” said Sergeant Detective John Boyle, a department spokesman.
He declined to say how many officers discharged their weapons. All have been placed on administrative duty, which is standard procedure, he said.
District attorneys from Norfolk and Suffolk said there were no updates on Saturday.
Juston Root had a prominent presence on social media where he listed his occupations as a teacher adviser on Earth and as a self-employed musician. A collection of self-made videos posted to his YouTube channel meander from space travel to paralysis and stretching demonstrations to philosophizing about respect for the common man.
Saucer Galactics, a space craft company, was the name of a fictitious business listed in Root’s name, public records show.
Evan Root said his freckle-faced boy showed signs of mental illness long before his first psychotic break and hospitalization at age 19. His son was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, he said, and sometimes plunged into paranoia.
Father and son had their last conversation by telephone on Thursday morning. He seemed “very grounded,” Evan Root said Friday, shortly after learning of his son’s death.
But he “could change in a day," he added.
Root’s parents said they did not believe their son owned a firearm, other than a paintball gun.
“He was probably scared and off his meds or something," Root’s mother, Barbara Root, said of her son’s behavior.
Court records outline Juston Root’s history of mental illness.
He was “refusing all antipsychotic medications," according to a December court filing in Suffolk Probate and Family Court.
“[He] continues to be unable to make informed decisions regarding his treatment with antipsychotic medications,” the filing said.
“He has never committed a violent act toward anyone," Barbara Root wrote in 2012 when the state’s Department of Mental Health asked a judge to appoint a permanent guardian to make medical decisions for him.
"Juston is highly intelligent, can be delusional if off meds, but he is not off meds,” she wrote. “Off meds he can think of Aliens and Homeland Security but has never done any harm to anyone. He only becomes scared defensive and threatened when he is being attacked by police for a Section 12.”
Section 12 is the part of state law that requires police to take a person into custody and bring them to a hospital for mental health care.
When the court proceeding began, Juston Root had just spent 10 months at the Worcester Recovery Center
Years ago, Juston Root got into trouble at least twice over a “toy gun,” Barbara Root said in an interview Friday evening.
In one instance he produced it on the campus of Northeastern University, and in another that involved police, he had the “toy gun” in a Boston park, she said.
Barbara Root said her son had been “very stable” over the last five years but in recent conversations she detected that he was “getting manic.”
“He was getting a little hyped up and extreme,” she said.
Barbara Root said she regretted that police did not turn to a less lethal method of dealing with her son on Friday.
“I don’t know why they had to take it to that extreme,” she said.
Her son received government assistance, practiced veganism and had an interest in cooking and hip-hop. They spoke every other day, she said.
Juston Root’s last job was delivering pizzas for a restaurant in Dorcester, according to his father.
He was well-liked, very social and had many friends, Evan Root said.
“There’s so much love for him,” Evan Root said. “His illness made it difficult sometimes for his friends to get along with him or even follow all the space talk and stuff.”
Juston Root saw codes and found meaning in all of the far-out tangents and fixations, his father said.
“He gets a little carried away with them,” Evan Root said. “But all those things have meaning to him.”
What it all meant, Evan Root, cannot say.
“You’d have to ask him,” he said. “And he can’t answer right now.”
Correspondent Breanne Kovatch contributed to this story.
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