Kenneth Gleason graduated from high school an honor student and became an Eagle Scout in 2012, and, on Tuesday, he was arrested on two counts of first-degree murder — in the apparently random shooting deaths of two black men.
Longtime friends reacted to Gleason’s arrest with shock and disbelief, saying they never suspected their friend could commit such violent acts.
Over the weekend, Baton Rouge police said the killings may have been racially motivated. On Tuesday, they said they are still examining motive, while also accusing Gleason of shooting at the the home of a black family who lived down the street from his parents' house.
"We're not completely closed off to that," said Sgt. L'Jean McKneely, a police spokesman. "We're looking at all possibilities at this time, so we're not going to just pinpoint that."
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After growing up in Baton Rouge, Gleason, 23, graduated cum laude from Baton Rouge Magnet High School — a selective program often referred to as the city's flagship public school. He also participated in the dual enrollment program at Baton Rouge Community College, taking college classes there his senior year of high school.
He later dropped out of LSU his sophomore year and started working temporary jobs, spending hours each day reading philosophy texts, his friends said. None of his friends knew exactly why he left college, but several described him as a quiet, inquisitive and thoughtful young man often spotted reading and generally keeping to himself.
High school classmates said Gleason studied diligently and treated other people with respect.
A state law that took effect in 2009 making it easier to subject serial killers to the death…
Samson Neck, who was friends with him in high school and after, said Gleason “read all kinds of books” and seemed to have “a new book every day, pretty much.”
Police arrested Gleason on Monday on a shoplifting count following reports that he recently stole a copy of “The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” from a bookstore on Towne Center Boulevard.
“(Kenneth) was down to talk to you about anything — a very curious guy,” Neck said. “I never could have expected him to do anything like what he’s being accused of.”
The general consensus among their friends is total shock, Neck said. He didn’t mention any significant changes he noticed in Gleason following their high school graduation and said his friend seemed to remain “the same old person he ever was.”
Gleason became an Eagle Scout when he was 18, completing a construction project at St. John's United Methodist Church to earn the rank — an achievement shared by only about 5 percent of all Boy Scouts, according to the organization.
He was wearing a shirt bearing the name of Philmont Scout Ranch, a Boy Scout camp in New Mexico, on his way to Parish Prison on Tuesday morning. The Boy Scouts of America released a statement in response to his arrest.
“We were shocked to learn about the allegations against this individual,” said Gary Mertz, CEO and Scout executive for the Istrouma Area Council, in the statement. “This behavior runs counter to everything for which the Boy Scouts of America stands. … Our thoughts and prayers are with all those impacted by this terrible tragedy.”
Gleason attended LSU for about a year starting in fall 2012, his friends said. LSU spokesman Ernie Ballard confirmed a student under that name enrolled in 2012 and later withdrew.
Corey Anderson, 22, was watching Netflix in his bedroom early Sept. 11 when he heard gunfire.
Matthew Drago, a senior engineering major at LSU, lived with Gleason for about a year not long after Gleason dropped out of college. Drago said during that time Gleason was working as a sushi delivery driver but otherwise spent most of his time at home, reading all kinds of philosophy texts.
A law enforcement official said Tuesday that Gleason had studied German in school and had many German writings in his room, which detectives are further investigating for their content. An official also told The Associated Press that investigators found a copy of an Adolf Hitler speech while searching his home.
But Drago said he noticed mostly Eastern and Buddhist texts — no extreme ideologies or anything that seemed racist. “There were no hints of racial prejudice,” he said. “He really did keep to himself a lot, but I never noticed anything that seemed out of the ordinary.”
Drago said he was mildly surprised at the apparent lack of career motivation his roommate displayed — he was “just going to wing it and see what happens, rolling with wherever life takes him” — and his sometimes impulsive behavior. One time, Gleason drove to Colorado alone for vacation, apparently on a whim.
Drago said Gleason moved in with his parents after they both moved out of the house they were renting. They later lost touch.
Neighbors reported seeing Gleason over the past several months, sometimes sleeping in his car outside the modest brick house on Sandy Ridge Drive where his parents live.
On Saturday, detectives found marijuana and human growth hormones in Gleason's bedroom and bathroom, according to his arrest report. Drago said Gleason smoked marijuana regularly during the time they lived together.
One friend described the family as “great, hardworking people” involved in their community. Gleason's parents and other family members have declined to comment.
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A 23-year-old white man arrested Tuesday was accused of killing two …
Gleason bought a gun in Baton Rouge in November, then was arrested in December and accused of shoplifting in Phoenix, where he told police that he was homeless but returning to Louisiana immediately, according to court documents and police. His Arizona shoplifting charges, which were dismissed in January, stemmed from about $30 of Target merchandise.
Several people who knew Gleason said they remain skeptical about whether he actually committed the killings in question, judging by the character he displayed over many years.
“Mostly everyone who knew him … is pretty shell shocked,” said one high school classmate, who asked not to be identified. “My conscience is saying he couldn’t have done something like this, so I'm still operating on the benefit of the doubt."
Editor's note: Background on the crimes were added after publication.