Christopher John Monfort, the suspect in the killing of Seattle police Officer Timothy Brenton, struggled with his mixed race, according to a woman who became a mother figure to him.

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When Christopher John Monfort began doing volunteer teaching work in 2007 at the juvenile-detention center in Seattle, he appeared uncomfortable and shy.

But about two years ago, he began spending time in the office of Roxy Hill, who oversees the center’s school program. Monfort noticed a picture on the wall of the two mixed-race children of Hill, who is white, and her ex-husband, who is black.

As a mixed-race person of the same background, Monfort began opening up about himself, Hill recounted Monday as she tried to comprehend Monfort’s alleged role in the fatal shooting of Seattle police Officer Timothy Brenton.

“He had a self-image issue about being mixed,” Hill said.

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Hill, 54, who has worked at the juvenile center for more than 30 years, said she tried to help Monfort overcome his self-doubts as she became somewhat of a mother figure to him.

But he never seemed to be able to do that, even to the point that he shaved his head bald about 1 ½ years ago when someone remarked about his reddish hair, Hill said.

Monfort didn’t appear to have friends, a romantic interest or close ties to his family, Hill said, adding to a growing portrait of a man who developed few close ties with other people even as he returned to school in his 30s to make something of himself.

“You couldn’t connect him to any human beings, not even his parents,” Hill said.

Yet there was no inkling of violent behavior, according to Hill and others who had dealings with him.

What Monfort did display was no self-worth, Hill said.

She said she coaxed out of him that he had a mother in Alaska and a father living in Indiana. He would cast his father in a “positive light, and then not,” and do the same with his mother, Hill said.

Hill said she told him his parents must be proud of him for his educational efforts — he had completed criminal-justice studies at Highline Community College and, while working at the juvenile center, was pursuing a degree in the subject at the University of Washington.

“He would look up at me and say, ‘probably not,’ ” Hill said.

Monfort has lived in Indiana, California, Alaska and Washington. He is the grandson of the former owners of the Hartford City, Ind., News Times, a small daily newspaper in the farming community of 6,900. John and Bert Monfort sold the paper a number of years ago, said reporter Danny Careins.

John Monfort died a few years back, he said, after the paper was sold. Bert Monfort, who worked as the lifestyle editor and is now 91, declined to talk Monday about her grandson, saying, “I don’t know anything.”

Monfort’s parents couldn’t be reached. His mother is in Seattle as Monfort recovers from gunshot wounds after being shot Friday by Seattle police. Officers said he pulled a gun.

Monfort, 41, talked little about his background, said Lloyd Lezcano, a Fife trucking-firm owner who employed Monfort a few years ago as a short-haul driver of shipping containers.

Monfort was liked by his co-workers, was generally reliable on the job and polite to a fault, Lezcano said.

Monfort would get worked up at times about political issues, decrying things such as warrantless wiretaps under President George W. Bush, Lezcano said.

But it seemed to be the typical passionate talk of a college student, Lezcano said.

Monfort even lightened up when workers chided him about carrying his political conversations into after-work time, when others wanted to play their guitars, said Lezcano’s brother, Tom, co-owner of the trucking firm.

Next thing they knew, Monfort showed up with an electric guitar and amplifier, and began jamming with the others, he said.

Monfort eventually left the trucking job and apparently worked as a security guard.

He also displayed his political views at the juvenile center, Hill said.

When she walked by classrooms, Hill said, Monfort would always be talking about inequities in the criminal-justice system.

“He was turning it into a black and white” issue, Hill said.

Yet he was confused about where he stood, Hill said, recalling that he once commented that he didn’t know what side to be on — black or white.

Hill said she told him he didn’t “have to be on one side; you’re Chris … .”

Monfort came to the juvenile center to fulfill a requirement that he do 100 hours of volunteer work as part of his studies at the UW, where he earned a degree in Law, Societies and Justice in 2008.

Volunteers are required to produce identification and undergo a criminal-background check, said Kathy Van Olst, director of King County’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention. Monfort had no criminal history.

Pam Jones, the director of juvenile detention, said Monfort worked 17 times in 2007 and 11 times in 2008. He was supposed to teach “criminal-justice topics” and talk “about the system and the courts,” Jones said.

Monfort also worked twice this year, after his graduation from the UW.

Hill said she considered hiring him until he “started dropping out of sight.”

Monfort most recently wanted to be a college history professor, specializing in constitutional law, said Garry Wegner, his program coordinator at Highline, who stayed in touch with him.

“He always wanted to make a difference,” Wegner said.

Hill said she never would have guessed that Monfort would be tied to violent crimes — “never in a million years.”

Seattle Times reporter Mike Carter and news researchers Gene Balk and David Turim contributed to this report. Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or smiletich@seattletimes

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