De­spite volatil­ity, on-air rampage that killed news crew dif­fi­cult to pre­dict


Liv­ing alone in a world of per­ceived slights, Vester Lee Flana­gan II never quite crossed the line from be­ing just another an­gry guy to do­ing some­thing that would have pre­vented him from buy­ing the gun he used to kill two for­mer co­work­ers on live TV in Vir­ginia.

Flana­gan, 41, had never been ar­rested for a felony and had no crim­i­nal record. There are no records in­di­cat­ing he was ever com­mit­ted for psy­chi­atric care.

Hop- scotch­ing around the coun­try for work, he rarely stayed any­where longer than a year and didn’t ap­pear to so­cial­ize much. In­stead, the last­ing im­pres­sion among those he met — whether it was co-work­ers or a store clerk — was for lash­ing out for imag­ined of­fenses that oth­ers couldn’t fathom. His fam­ily at the other end of the coun­try, he lived alone in an apart­ment near the TV sta­tion that had fired him two years ago.

Video from in­side his home ob­tained by NBC News shows a sparsely dec­o­rated apart­ment and a re­frig­er­a­tor plas­tered with photos of him­self, in­clud­ing old class pic­tures and mod­el­ing shots that he also posted on so­cial media.

How can any­one stop some­one from car­ry­ing out a mas­sacre when there seem to be no hints of loom­ing vi­o­lence — or no one close enough to no­tice?

“We all wish we could pre­dict hu­man be­hav­ior ac­cu­rately all the time,” said Clint Van Zandt, a for­mer FBI be­hav­ioral pro­filer. “The be­hav­ior doesn’t cross the line un­til he shows he presents a re­al­is­tic, im­me­di­ate threat to him­self and oth­ers.”

Flana­gan fa­tally shot him­self while flee­ing po­lice and couldn’t ex­plain why he killed WDBJ-TV re­porter Ali­son Parker, 24, and 27- year- old cam­era­man Adam Ward. In a fax to ABC News, Flana­gan wrote that he had been mis­treated for be­ing black and gay, and the “tip­ping point” was the shoot­ing that killed nine black peo­ple at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June.

Per­haps to bring at­ten­tion to his com­plaints af­ter-the-fact, Flana­gan — us­ing his on-air name, Bryce Wil­liams — posted a grisly video of him­self killing Parker and Wade and sent a se­ries of tweets com­plain­ing about the two, who of­ten worked to­gether on the sta­tion’s morn­ing show. Of Parker, an in­tern when he was at the sta­tion ahead of his Fe­bru­ary 2013 fir­ing, he com­plained she had made racist com­ments; of Ward, he claimed the cam­era­man went to the sta­tion’s HR depart­ment af­ter work­ing with him just a sin­gle time.

‘In­jus­tice Col­lec­tor’ with

‘En­emy List’

Bureau of Al­co­hol, To­bacco, Firearms and Ex­plo­sives spokesman Thomas Faison has said Flana­gan legally pur­chased the gun used in the slay­ing that also left a lo­cal eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cial in­jured, some­thing that couldn’t have hap­pened if he had prior felony con­vic­tions or a history of men­tal health com­mit­ments.

It’s un­clear whether Flana­gan had ever been treated for psy­chi­atric prob­lems. The peo­ple he en­coun­tered de­scribed him as un­sta­ble and with a hair-trig­ger tem­per, but no one has so far said he made threat­en­ing re­marks.

Justin McLeod, who worked as re­porter at WDBJ for a time with Flana­gan, de­scribed him as hav­ing a “Jekyll and Hyde” per­son­al­ity. He was a volatile man who had trou­ble mak­ing friends and would get an­gry at the slight­est per­ceived in­sult, McLeod said, yet he also stayed in Roanoke af­ter be­ing fired and would oc­ca­sion­ally be seen around town.

“It was some­thing that was truly scary,” McLeod said.

Po­lice were called to the sta­tion when Flana­gan was fired af­ter he ini­tially re­fused to leave, but he was never charged with a crime. When an of­fi­cer ar­rived to es­cort him from the build­ing, Flana­gan, who was black, yelled a racial ep­i­thet and threw a cap as he ex­ited. He pressed a wooden cross into his news di­rec­tor’s hand, telling him: “You’ll need this.” Roanoke po­lice said in a state­ment Fri­day that Flana­gan sat in his per­sonal car un­til he re­ceived pa­per­work about his dis­missal, then left with­out prob­lems.

Mark Sichel, a New York-based psy­chother­a­pist and au­thor, said Flana­gan was a clas­sic “in­jus­tice col­lec­tor,” a per­son whose frag­ile ego leads to para­noid be­hav­ior, such as over­re­act­ing to per­ceived slights and cre­at­ing en­emy lists, as a pro­tec­tive mech­a­nism.

It usu­ally doesn’t lead to phys­i­cal vi­o­lence, but as the list grows, so does the per­son’s rage and sense of moral su­pe­ri­or­ity, Sichel said. In­ter­ven­tion rarely works, as such a per­son scoffs at ther­apy and re­jects of­fers of help. These peo­ple tend to alien­ate peo­ple they know, but their be­hav­ior tends to be dis­missed un­less they threaten or harm some­one.

“They could call the po­lice and say this per­son is a dan­ger to oth­ers, but I’m not sure the po­lice could do any­thing,” Sichel said.

Sichel said Adam Lanza, who killed 27 peo­ple, in­clud­ing 20 stu­dents at Sandy Hook Ele­men­tary School, in New­town, Con­necti­cut, in 2012, also fit the pro­file. And the phrase “in­jus­tice col­lec­tor” ap­pears in an FBI re­port on threat assess­ments pre­pared in re­sponse to the 1999 Columbine High School mas­sacre in Lit­tle­ton, Colorado, per­pe­trated by teenage gun­men Eric Harris and Dy­lan Kle­bold.

Oth­ers crossed Flana­gan in seem­ingly mun­dane in­ci­dents af­ter his fir­ing. In one in­stance, he wrote a ram­bling let­ter to a res­tau­rant, com­plain­ing that staff told him “have a nice day” in­stead of “thank you.” In another, a co-worker at a health in­sur­ance com­pany’s call cen­ter, Michelle Ki­bodeaux, 46, said he tried to grab her af­ter she made an in­nocu­ous re­mark about him be­ing un­usu­ally quiet one day.

“He said, ‘Don’t you walk away from me. Don’t you turn your back on me,’” she re­called.

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