(CNN) — It’s a cliche. After a shooting, reporters rush to find people who can talk about the accused. Almost always, neighbors, colleagues, friends and family shake their heads in disbelief.
He was such a nice boy, they’ll say, quiet. We can’t believe he could have done something like this.
Such has not been the case so far with Evan Ebel, 28, the man suspected of killing Colorado prison chief Tom Clements last week.
People who knew Ebel invariably describe him as troubled.
He was an ex-con, who spent years in solitary confinement because he was deemed too great a risk to the prison community. He was angry, violent, and seemingly incapable of accepting the sort of help his prominent family and others wanted to give.
Ebel was lost.
“From the beginning, his son just seemed to have this bad streak, a streak of cruelty, and anger,” Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a longtime friend of Ebel’s father, told CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“They did everything they could. They tried. They worked with Evan again and again, but to no avail,” the governor said.
“He had a bad, bad streak.”
Tendency toward violence
Ebel grew up on a quiet street in Lakewood, Colorado, near Denver.
He was the son of Jody Mangue and Jack Ebel, an attorney and former oil executive. By all accounts, Ebel came from privilege, but showed signs of trouble from a very early age.
“He just struck me as angry,” said Lakewood neighbor Vicky Bankey.
“I could see him, he’d be running out on the front lawn to come out to a car with his friends and he would have screaming, obscenity-laced arguments with them sometimes,” she said.
As a teenager, Ebel was sent to a boot-camp-type program in Samoa, where according to one person who knew him there, almost everyone avoided him.
“He was quite a scary individual, especially by the end of the time. He had engaged in several fights with other students. One in particular he beat up with a broomstick,” said Kurt Frey, who put Ebel’s age at the camp somewhere between 15 and 17.
“He’s gone through so many bad things in his life that really, it just didn’t surprise me that he ended up being killed in a shootout with police.”
Wanting to make ‘Hitler jealous’
Ebel was killed Thursday in north Texas after a battle with authorities that left a sheriff’s deputy wounded.
He died just two days after Clements was shot to death at his home outside Colorado Springs.
Authorities have said the bullets that killed Clements came from a gun that was found with Ebel, who had handwritten directions to the prison chief’s house in his car.
Police have also said there is a “strong connection” between the killings of Clements and that of Nathan Collin Leon, a pizza delivery driver who was found dead in suburban Golden, Colorado.
No clear motive has emerged in either case.
Investigators, however, have said they are looking into all possible angles, including Ebel’s onetime membership in the 211 Crew — a white-supremacist prison gang.
Clements earned widespread recognition not only for prison reforms but also for a crackdown on gangs.
According to Frey, Ebel’s behavior, even as a teenager, suggested he was interested in white supremacy.
“He was very proud of his Sicilian heritage, and he always talked about wanting to kill so many people that he’d make Hitler jealous,” Frey told CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360.”
“He really was racist, but at the same time he did hang around with African-Americans at the camp, so it was very contradictory.”
‘We know a different person’
A more nuanced picture of Ebel likewise emerges from his mother’s accounts.
Mangue writes about her children on a blog she originally started in memory of her 16-year-old daughter, who died in a car accident in 2004.
The site is now also dedicated to the memory of her son.
According to Mangue, Ebel’s life took a sharp turn after his sister’s death.
“Evan drifted into a dark period, he was struggling prior, but that event threw him over the edge, they were three years apart. He was the protective big brother and in this case, was unable to protect her,” she wrote.
“His life deteriorated after that and he just became numb and lost his direction altogether, between using drugs and committing crimes, he was soon put in prison for 8 long years.”
Mangue and Ebel’s father kept in close contact, sending letters, cards and visiting their son when they could.
He got in shape in prison, became an avid reader and an advocate against using substances, she said.
Mangue wrote about the bright moments of her son’s childhood.
Ebel was a funny boy, full of spunk and energy, she recalled. He wasn’t afraid of anyone and loved animals.
Once, after a sleepover at a friend’s house, he brought home a small gray kitten named Sparkles. The family kept her for 15 years.
“So even though, he is depicted as depraved, evil, we know a different person who was loving, kind, thoughtful, generous and sensitive to many in his family and to his friends,” Mangue wrote.
“As determined the media is in trying to pick apart our son, Evan for a good story, they will never succeed, he is out of their reach. He is not imprisoned anymore, his suffering has ended.”
Anger at authority
Ebel was released from prison in January, after serving seven years — three for felony menacing, robbery and assault, another four for assaulting a guard.
It was his second stretch in prison, after doing one year of a three-year term for felony armed robbery.
According to his mother and Gov. Hickenlooper, Ebel was in solitary confinement for much of his sentence. He was deemed too great a risk to be put with other inmates.
Similarly, he spent time in isolation at the boot camp in Samoa.
That time was hard for Ebel, Frey said, and it may have made things worse.
“He had a lot of anger towards authority. He never liked being told what to do and his time in isolation really only compacted that,” Frey said.
“Everything was dictated down to the minute, and that really frustrated him.”
Ironically, Clements — the man Ebel is accused of killing — was a champion of reducing solitary confinement for prisoners.
One thing authorities might never know about Ebel is, simply, why?
His alleged actions might not have a clear logic.
But they at least appear to have a clear trajectory, said Rev. Leon Kelly, an anti-gang activist in Colorado.
“This kid here, who may have tried to find a sense of identity throughout the course of his life now … in an evil, senseless way, he’s found it.”
By Dana Ford
CNN’s Paul Vercammen, Casey Wian and Chelsea J. Carter contributed to this report.
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