fb-pixel Skip to main content

Boston police officers inadvertently shot a valet outside Brigham and Women’s Hospital earlier this month during a confrontation with a mentally ill man who brandished a “very realistic-looking” fake gun, Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins said Tuesday.

At a press conference, authorities said that Juston Root took aim at officers at close range. Two officers then fired their weapons.

The parking valet, who was struck in the eye by one of the officers’ bullets and was seriously injured, was an innocent bystander, Rollins said. He was hospitalized for more than a week after the Feb. 7 shooting.

Until Tuesday, authorities had not said who shot the valet or whether the suspected gunman was carrying a real weapon.

Advertisement



Rollins shared security video that captured the dramatic confrontation between Root, a 41-year-old with a long history of mental illness, and an officer outside the hospital.

Root pulled his apparent weapon from his waistband and took aim at the officer at nearly point-blank range, causing the officer to stumble backward and fall, the video showed.

The fallen officer fired several shots, Rollins said, as did a second officer.

Root was shot at the hospital before he drove away and led police on a nearly 4-mile chase to Brookline, Rollins said.

Juston Root about a year ago. (Evan Root)
Juston Root about a year ago. (Evan Root)Evan Root

After Root, who lived in Mattapan, crashed his car and tried to make a run for it in Brookline, police fatally shot him. He had repeatedly refused to drop the fake gun, police said.

“The investigation revealed that the weapon recovered on scene . . . was not a working firearm,” Rollins said, referring to it as a “replica firearm.” “We can, therefore, determine that the valet was struck by a bullet discharged by a Boston police officer.”

The second police confrontation, in Brookline, is being investigated by the Norfolk district attorney’s office. The office is “in the process of finalizing the investigation,” a spokesman said Tuesday, and will release more information soon.

Advertisement



In the 18 days preceding Tuesday’s update, law enforcement had released minimal information. The public had not known whether Root actually possessed a gun or, as police had reported, “what appeared to be a firearm." It had not been known whether Root took aim or discharged a weapon. Nor did the public know who was responsible for the valet’s injury.

Officials attributed the delay to the complicated nature of the multi-jurisdictional investigation.

“We’re human too," Boston Police Commissioner William Gross said at the news conference. “And quite frankly, as you can see, that officer was definitely in fear for his life.”

The bullet that seriously wounded the valet detached his retina, Rollins said. It may have ricocheted, she said.

Gross said he spoke with the valet Tuesday morning.

“I’m just grateful that he’s alive and in great spirits,” Gross said. “We had a good talk.”

Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins ooked at Boston Police Commissioner William Gross as he spoke about the valet who was injured.
Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins ooked at Boston Police Commissioner William Gross as he spoke about the valet who was injured. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

When police were called to the Brigham for a report of an armed suspect at 9:19 a.m., they “responded to a tense and escalating potential active-shooter incident,” Rollins said.

The suspect, later identified as Root, had pulled the apparent gun on a security guard and chased two other guards in the area of 60 Fenwood Road, Rollins said.

When police arrived, Root began to direct cruisers toward the commotion in an apparent effort to conceal his involvement, Rollins said.

Root pointed an approaching officer to a location up the street, Rollins said. In that moment, the officer saw the replica gun in Root’s waistband, she said.

Advertisement



Root pulled it, aimed it at the officer, and began to pull the trigger, Rollins said.

That’s when two officers began shooting, she said.

Rollins referred to the object in Root’s hand as a "replica'' that was not operational but she did not elaborate. Police declined to say whether the replica gun was plastic, metal, or made of some other material.

“That’s part of the investigation that hasn’t come out yet,” Sergeant Detective John Boyle said.

Boston banned the use of unmarked replica handguns in public spaces in November 2015. The hope was that the measure would head off dangerous situations in which police could confuse toys for weapons.

Between 2015 and 2018, police shot 146 people brandishing non-powder and toy firearms nationwide, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Rollins said her determination on whether police officers responded appropriately will be based on “what did they know in that moment as they were entering a scene that was tense and escalating.”

Tuesday’s information was preliminary and the investigation is ongoing, Rollins said.

A “final determination may not be made for many months,” she said. “We will not rush to judgment."

Rollins said she met with Root’s family before the news conference. “The Root family didn’t ask for any of this," she said. “It was just a sad conversation."

Root’s parents have said they did not believe their son, who was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, owned a firearm.

Advertisement



Root had gotten into trouble twice in the past over a “toy gun," his mother, Barbara Root, said earlier this month.

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.

Their son had his first psychotic break at age 19 and was known to plunge into paranoia, his father, Evan Root said.

Hours after learning her son had been killed by police, Barbara Root said, “He was probably scared and off his meds or something."

Her son did not have violent tendencies, she wrote in court documents in 2012.

He “only becomes scared defensive and threatened” when confronted by police who try to take him into custody for a mental-health evaluation, she said.

Juston Root had been “very stable” over the last five years, Barbara Root said, but in recent conversations she detected that he was “getting manic.”

“He was getting a little hyped-up and extreme,” she said.

Root did not have an appointment at the Brigham nor was he being treated there, a hospital spokeswoman said. Authorities said they don’t know why Root was at the hospital.

Travis Anderson of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Tonya Alanez can be reached at tonya.alanez@globe.com or 617-929-1579. Follow her on Twitter @talanez.