The burglar killed Monday morning in a LaPorte County home invasion had a very troubled past.
Jason Rabe, 23, of Three Oaks Township was shot to death in the upper left chest by an armed tenant. The scene of the crime sits along the 6700 E. block of County Road 1000 N. – roughly six miles from Rabe’s longtime Michigan home.
Berrien County records indicate Rabe had just one run-in with law enforcement – a Nov. 2010 ticket for possession of marijuana and retail fraud. Police say there are two reasons for that: Rabe was good at evading them, and he committed many of his crimes as a juvenile. Juvenile records of course are not considered public documents and consequently don’t show up during background checks.
One of those underage run-ins came in the fall of 2006 when Rabe broke into a home along the 16000 block of Flynn Rd., about one mile northeast of downtown Three Oaks.
Homeowner Dave Thomas stopped home around 10:30 a.m. on that late autumn day when he stumbled across the then 16-year-old teen dressed in black cargo pants and a black hoodie.
"As I came out of the kitchen, he came out of the third bedroom right there and we had a face to face confrontation,” Thomas, a Berrien County native and former volunteer firefighter recalled.
Rabe ran down a hallway, into a two-car garage and out a rear door, where he hopped on his moped. Thomas, who was carrying a pistol at the time, ordered the teen onto the ground and called 911.
It wasn’t until deputies arrested Rabe that he and his wife grasped the magnitude of the destruction left behind. The disturbed teen had sprayed fire extinguishers across the ranch-style house, fired at least four shots arbitrarily and used a hatchet to break into a safe in the basement. The insurance claim was more than $7,000; the emotional damage however, couldn’t be repaired.
"We have a close family and you feel violated in your home. You’re unsure walking back into a home. We eventually got over it, but yesterday’s news brings it back around again,” Thomas said seated at his kitchen table.
A short distance away, Rabe’s family gathered at the home he shared with his mother along the 5400 block of US 12 to mourn and make visitation arrangements. Rabe’s father Bob spoke openly to NewsCenter 16 about his son’s past.
"His mother and I divorced in 1999 when Jason was just nine. I don't think he ever dealt with that. I think we dropped the ball and didn't get him the therapy that he should have gotten, and I think that would have made a big difference,” Bob Rabe said while trying to hold back the tears.
Prior to the divorce, family members say Rabe was a bright kid with a promising future. But by middle school he struggled with anger management, and his teen years brought that lifestyle of criminal activity which he never was able to shake.
"As long as he could stay in his little bubble he was fine, but when he came out into the world, it was a battle for him, a battle inside his own head. He just wasn't happy. I don't know how you reach someone like that. I just didn’t know how to get to him when he was that mad,” Bob Rabe added.
That anger and depression seemed to spike over the last three months. During that time, Rabe was involved in two serious motor vehicle crashes, one of which totaled his Toyota Camry, and the other, his moped.
Rabe’s father believes his son was on an intentional collision course, going so far as to say Monday’s break-in may have been an attempted suicide by armed homeowner.
"A week ago he wrecked his scooter, totaled it out. Somehow he didn’t have a scratch, he walked away. Now out of the blue he breaks into a house and charged at a guy with a gun? I believe that was his way of finalizing it,” Rabe speculated. "I don't blame the homeowner for defending his property; I would've done the same thing. If someone was breaking into my house with a hatchet, what are you going to do?”
During a phone interview Tuesday evening, Rabe’s paternal grandmother attributed the root of her grandson’s discontent to excessive bullying in school.
“He was the first kid picked-up on the bus and the last one dropped off. He was tiny, talked funny and was there to be made fun of fun. The bullying was just terrible,” she said with a voice broken by emotion.
The Three Oaks Police Dept. is investigating two late June breaking-and-entering cases where Rabe is a prime suspect. Police Chief Frank Nekvasil says both are located near the 23-year-old’s home and the style fits his modus operandi. A lack of physical evidence and his untimely death however, make proving his involvement nearly impossible Chief Nekvasil stated.
"I worked at the steel mill all my life and I worked a lot of overtime. I gave him anything he wanted, but I did not spend time with him and that's where the mistake was made. Let this be a lesson, spend time with your kids,” Bob Rabe remarked.
"This is just a byproduct of a situation first created all those years back. It was not by design, it's just unfortunate. That’s the end of the story,” Thomas concluded.
Rabe leaves behind his mother April, father Bob, a 26-year-old sister who works as a waitress, a 25-year-old brother who’s a jet engine mechanic in the US Air Force, and a niece named Chloe whom loved ones say brought him great joy.