Three years ago, before he was granted top secret clearance by the US government and entrusted with highly sensitive eyes-only information intended for officials in the Pentagon, graduating high school senior Jack Teixeira chose the following motto for his yearbook: “Actions speak louder than words.”
The phrase appeared next to a photo of Teixeira, who had already enlisted in the Massachusetts Air National Guard.
Today, of course, those words appear prophetic. The 21-year-old was formally charged Friday in federal court in Boston with being the source of a massive leak of national defense information and other classified documents.
The charges were baffling to some who grew up with Teixeira.
“I could never have foreseen him doing that,” said John Powell, a former high school classmate.
As federal authorities continue their criminal probe of Teixeira, CNN interviewed more than a half dozen former classmates of the suspect who offered insights that contribute to an emerging portrait of the young man at the center of the leak investigation. Teixeira grew up in the suburbs of Providence, Rhode Island, according to public records and graduated from Dighton-Rehoboth High School in neighboring Massachusetts in 2020.
Most students interviewed by CNN described Teixeira as an odd kid who seemed obsessed with guns, the military and war. He toted around a “dictionary-sized” book on firearms and another about “tanks, planes and submarines,” former classmates said. But some others said he made them feel uneasy. He made comments some perceived as racist and showed up for school after the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas wearing a shirt emblazoned with an AR-15.
“A lot of people were wary of him,” said Brooke Cleathero, a former classmate in both high school and middle school.
Another former classmate said his behavior did not rise to the level where people felt the need to report him, but “he made me nervous.”
According to a probable cause affidavit unsealed Friday, investigators believe Teixeira posted national defense information and other classified documents on a social media platform. Though the platform is not specified in the affidavit it has been identified by media outlets, including CNN, as Discord. Teixera had access to the documents as part of his job in cyber defense operations with the Air National Guard for which he would have had to sign a “lifetime binding non-disclosure agreement,” the affidavit stated.
FBI agents interviewed at least one person who said a young man later identified as Teixeira began posting “what appeared to be classified information” on a server in December. The unidentified source told agents the server was intended to “discuss geopolitical affairs and current and historical wars.”
According to the source, among the documents posted online was one describing “the status of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, including troop movements on a particular date.”
Many questions remain about Teixeira’s online activities and the server he allegedly used that is at the center of the government’s leak investigation.
Teixeira is believed to have been the head of an obscure invite-only Discord chatroom called Thug Shaker Central, multiple US officials told CNN, where information from the classified documents was first posted months ago.
Four Discord users active in different Discord chatrooms where the documents later appeared told CNN the documents began circulating on Thug Shaker.
A since-deleted profile with a username reportedly linked to Teixiera appeared on Steam, a gaming site. The avatar is a figure clad in black and clutching a rifle.
Next to the figure is an ominous sounding passage: “Beware the quiet man. For while others speak, he watched. And while others act, he plans. And when they finally rest… he strikes.”
Authorities have yet to publicly assign a motive to Teixeira’s alleged security breach and the allegations seem perplexing even to those who said they were concerned by his odd behavior in high school.
One former classmate who asked not to be named said she found Teixeira’s fascination with the military to be a form of American nationalism, and was therefore surprised by the allegations against him.
“This is a complete shock,” she said. “I didn’t think he would be capable of doing something like this.”
Teixeira’s parents divorced when he was nine years old, according to court records. His mother posted proudly about her son on social media, calling him an “IT guy” and writing that he occasionally made deliveries for the family’s flower business. Neither his mother or father responded to calls from CNN seeking comment.
Teixeira made his initial appearance in US District Court in Boston Friday to face the charges against him. He was escorted into the courtroom in shackles and left without entering a plea. He is due back in court on Wednesday for a hearing to determine whether he will remain behind bars while he awaits trial.
At the end of the hearing Friday, a man in the courtroom shouted, “Love you, Jack.” Teixeira did not look back, but responded, “You too, Dad.”
This headline and story have been updated with additional reporting and developments.
CNN’s Majlie du Puy Kamp, Casey Tolan and Hannah Rabinowitz contributed to this report.