PORTLAND, Ore. – “I’m still wrapping my head around the whole thing,” Chris Robillard said.
Robillard, who lives in Portland, talked to KATU News about his relationship with mass shooting suspect Wade Michael Page, 40, who was killed by police after they said he shot and killed six people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin on Sunday.
Three other victims of the rampage remain in critical condition.
Robillard talked to KATU News after he was interviewed about his experiences with Page by Piers Morgan of CNN.
Page joined the Army in 1992 and was discharged in 1998 after a series of conduct problems and a demotion, according to a defense official.
He was a repairman for the Hawk missile system before switching jobs to become one of the Army's psychological operations specialists, according to a defense official. He trained in "psy-ops" with Robillard.
Robillard said Page used to come by for dinner "all the time" and they spent a lot of time together while serving in the Army.
"He was always a brother to me,” Robillard said.
But he said Page also talked about "racial holy war" and related racial topics while in the service and during a week-long visit in 2000. But he also said the week Page spent with him seemed like "a moment of peace for him" after he said Page had essentially been living on the streets in Denver.
"We just thought it was him crying for attention," Robillard said of his racist views while in the service. He said Page was a "loner type of person."
The Southern Poverty Law Center said Monday that Page was a "frustrated neo-Nazi" who led a racist white supremacist rock band. Page told a white supremacist website in an interview in 2010 that he had been part of the white-power music scene since 2000 when he left his native Colorado and started the band, End Apathy, in 2005, the organization said.
"It’s hard for me to put the guy that I knew and connect him with the guy that he is now" and the temple shooting, he said. "It’s like two different people."
"He was one of my closest friends in the military," Robillard said. "We went through the psychological operations school together. In fact, we both barely missed a tragic shooting there," Robillard said in reference to a shooting of fellow soldiers during physical training exercises at Fort Bragg in 1995.
Robillard said he and Page were supposed to be on the same field where the shooting took place but a surprise inspection rescheduled their activities. "We got lucky on that," he said.
Officials and witnesses said Page walked into the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in suburban Milwaukee and opened fire as several dozen people prepared for Sunday services.
When the shooting ended, seven people lay dead, including Page, who was shot to death by police. Police said Page ambushed and shot one officer several times as he checked on a shooting victim. That officer was seriously injured but is expected to recover, officals said.
Robillard said Page "had changed dramatically" when he last saw him in 2000 as Page rode across the US.
"Like, in the Army, he didn’t have the tattoos or anything, he just had the doctrine drilled in his head," he said. "When he came out to visit, he had huge tattoos all over him, all racist stuff," including a cross with the number 14 in it and an 8-ball that had the number 88 on it.
"I’m angry with him... and I’m not ever going to be able to let him know that I’m angry with him for doing something so stupid," Robillard said.