“Craig Robertson, come out with your hands up! This is the FBI.”
That’s what residents of a quaint, suburban neighborhood pushed up against Provo Canyon near the BYU campus say they woke up to in the early morning hours Wednesday.
“It sounded like it was coming from inside my house,” said one neighbor, who asked not to be identified.
What followed was a barrage of gunshots. Moments later, authorities carried the overweight, elderly man out of his house, placed him on the sidewalk and tried, unsuccessfully, to render first aid, according to the witness. Several neighbors said his body remained on the concrete for two hours as blood soaked through a white sheet paramedics placed over him.
The FBI has not released details about the shooting. The neighbor’s eyewitness account provides the clearest picture so far of the fatal encounter between authorities and 75-year-old Craig Robertson.
After the sound of about six gunshots, “you hear them yell ‘shots fired, shots fired. He has a gun!’ And then a whole bunch more shots,” said the neighbor. There was such a loud barrage they were unable to tell how many times the agents inside Robertson’s home fired. “They were all shooting at the same time … and at that point in time, I was in get-my-kid mode.”
Neighbors say Robertson was shot and killed between 6 and 6:30 a.m. Wednesday as the FBI carried out a raid related to his social media posts where he made threats to President Joe Biden and other Democrats. Not long after the shooting, Biden arrived in Utah as part of a tour of Western states.
Robertson had been under FBI surveillance for a number of months, according to a federal criminal complaint filed Tuesday. He was charged with making interstate threats, making threats against federal law enforcement and making threats against the president.
“I hear Biden is coming to Utah. Digging out my old ghille suit and cleaning the dust off the m24 sniper rifle. Welcom, buffoon-in-chief!” Robertson wrote on social media.
Neighbors who spoke with the Deseret News described Robertson as a markedly different person than what he portrayed online. One person called him a “teddy bear” known for his woodworking who would sit in the same seat at church every Sunday; another said he was barely mobile, weighed nearly 300 pounds and was unable to walk without a cane. He would drive to church, despite it only being about 200 yards from his home, because he had so much trouble moving around.
Neighbors also described a harrowing scene, with dozens of agents converging on the Provo house, rifles drawn and hiding behind bulletproof shields as flash bangs exploded.
“I just can’t believe that this man warranted that kind of response,” said Travis Clark, who lived up the street from Robertson.
The neighbor who spoke on the condition of anonymity said they were shocked by the police presence and disturbed by what they saw after the shooting.
“I understand they have procedures that have to be followed. But having his body out there for so long when there’s kids in the cul-de-sac … they could have done more. Because he was bleeding through the sheet,” said the neighbor who asked to remain anonymous.
Through pictures and videos, the Deseret News was able to confirm the neighbor watched the scene unfold.
A neighborhood becomes a crime scene
It started early. The trucks rolled in quietly, under the cover of darkness, parking on lawns and blocking driveways in the suburb. It’s an unassuming street, where cottonwood trees grow in lawns and children ride bikes and scooters. But by Wednesday morning, it was blocked off with crime scene tape as investigators combed through the property.
It wasn’t until agents began calling to Robertson with a megaphone that the witness noticed the police. They looked out their window to see “dozens” of agents wearing fatigues and tactical gear with “FBI” plastered across their body armor. Parked nearly on the witness’ lawn was a tactical vehicle. The agents lined up in front of Robertson’s door, ordering him to exit with his hands up.
When Robertson wouldn’t comply, agents attempted to break his front door down, the neighbor said. The thud of a battering ram echoed through their house, at first sounding like a gunshot. The neighbor compared it to an “armory door. They could not get it open.”
That’s when agents used a breaching vehicle to go through the window, the neighbor said. Images taken in the aftermath show Robertson’s window shattered, with trim hanging from the frame and shades scattered.
That’s when the neighbor heard the first shots, followed by a rapid hail of gunfire.
The neighbor’s dog, in a panic, jumped up on the window sill and barked, knocking over several houseplants and sending dirt and shards of clay through the living room.
Authorities have not confirmed whether Robertson had a weapon or whether he fired any shots. The New York Times, quoting a federal law enforcement official speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Robertson was armed at the time.
The silence after the shooting, the neighbor said, was deafening. As they were walking up from the basement, where they had momentarily been hiding with their child, they saw officers carrying Robertson, half-dressed and bloodied. They placed him on the sidewalk and rendered first aid.
“But you can tell from how they’re acting, there’s probably no chance. So then I watched him bleed out on the sidewalk,” the witness said.
It’s unclear when Robertson was pronounced dead. As he lay on the sidewalk, firetrucks and an ambulance arrived, and paramedics used an airway kit in an attempt to revive him, the witness said.
“Then paramedics packed all their stuff up. They put a sheet over him and then they just left, and they left him there. And the body was there for what felt like forever, just bleeding through the sheet, just laying in a pool of blood on the sidewalk. And then after a little while, I thought, ‘I can’t sit here and stare at his body,’” the witness said. At about 8:30 a.m., they left the neighborhood.