BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — Authorities now say the suspect in a shooting at Brigham and Women's Hospital and pursuit down Route 9 earlier this month did not have an actual working firearm on him when he was shot and killed by police.
That shooting and chase on February 7 left 41-year-old Justin Root of Mattapan dead in neighboring Brookline, and a 49-year-old hospital valet struck by gunfire.
At a press conference Tuesday morning, Suffolk County District Attorney Rachel Rollins said the revelation that Root was carrying only some sort of "very realistic looking" replica firearm confirmed that it was police, and not Root, who wounded the valet.
"The investigation revealed that the weapon recovered on scene near Mr. Root in Norfolk County, which he had brandished in Suffolk County, was not a working firearm," Suffolk County District Attorney Rachel Rollins said. "We can, therefore, determine that the valet was struck by a bullet discharged by a Boston Police officer."
Boston Police Commissioner William Gross said Root's killing was not the intent of responding officers, but that they had to process information quickly, with only seconds to act. Gross said the officer feared for his life due to what looked like a realistic firearm.
"Things happened within a matter of seconds, and I can honestly tell you it is not the intent of any police officer ... to go out and be involved in an officer-involved shooting that may end in a fatality," he said. "We're human too."
Rollins and Gross said the investigation is ongoing. When asked if police acted appropriately, Rollins said, "That's ultimately what we will be determining, and we will not rush to judgement there."
The incident began around 9:21 a.m. on Friday, February 7, when officers were called to the hospital for a report of a person with a gun. Rollins said a Brigham security officer was threatened by Root, who showed what appeared to be a gun tucked into his waistband, and the hospital called 911 as a result.
As officers arrived, Rollins said, Root was chasing two other hospital security guards down Vining Street near Fenwood Road. As police cruisers drove by, Rollins said Root tried to direct them to a different location.
"As police arrived at this hectic scene, Mr. Root stopped his chase and began to direct police vehicles up Vining Street in an apparent attempt to deflect police attention elsewhere," Rollins said.
But Root eventually encountered an officer who spotted what looked like a gun in his waistband.
In a video shown at the DA's press conference, that officer can be seen encountering Root. Root then appears to aim a weapon at the officer.
"Quite frankly, you can see that officer was definitely in fear of his life," Commissioner Gross said of the video.
The officer can be seen falling backward when he sees the realistic-looking replica raised in his direction. In the chaos that followed, that officer and a second officer fired their weapons.
It was then that the hospital valet was struck. Gross said that valet is alive and recovering.
"I did speak with the valet this morning, and I'm just grateful that he's alive and that he's in good spirits, and we had a great talk," Gross said.
He was initially hospitalized in critical condition; Rollins said they were still looking into how exactly he was wounded, but that there were indications he may have been hit in his eye by a ricochet bullet.
"I believe his retina is detached, but we are happy to report, as of now, that is still functioning," Rollins said.
Rollins said Root was also struck by police gunfire. After being wounded, Root got into a Chevy Volt he had abandoned in the middle of the street, and fled the scene down Huntington Avenue toward Brookline.
Root eventually crashed into several vehicles near 1195 Boylston Street. When he got out, officers said earlier this month, he again brandished what looked like a weapon. Several officers opened fire on him, including a Massachusetts State Police officer, striking him; he was taken to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
Officials would not comment on any possible motive on the behalf of Mr. Root.
"We have the ability now to know a little bit more about that individual," Rollins said of Root, "but I would never try to speculate what Mr. Root was thinking when he engaged in this behavior."
Gross thanked hospital staff, who he noted had been through something similar several years ago, when a gunman shot and killed Dr. Michael Davidson at the hospital in January 2015.
"The staff and the administration must have been triggered by this incident, because they had to go through the same type of hardship before," he said.
In a statement, Brigham Health President Dr. Betsy Nabel thanked police for their response to the hospital.
"On behalf of our Brigham family, I want to thank the many members of law enforcement who responded to our campus on Feb. 7," Dr. Nabel wrote. "We are immensely grateful for their commitment to protect and serve our community."
WBZ NewsRadio's Karyn Regal (@Karynregal) reports