Vester Flanagan fulfilled a threat to put his conflict with colleagues into “the headlines” when he gunned down two employees of a Virginia TV station during a live morning broadcast – one of them a cameraman who had filmed his sacking two years earlier.
But as station employees struggled to explain the events that framed Flanagan’s anger, others who had run across the gunman in the time since he lost his job at WDBJ-TV described a man whose hair-trigger temper was increasingly set off by slights that were more often imagined than real.
A former co-worker at a call centre where he worked until late 2014 recalled how her off-hand comment that the often boisterous Flanagan was acting quiet led him to try to grab her by the shoulder, and tell her never to talk to him again.
At a bar in Roanoke, the manager recalled Flanagan was so incensed when no one thanked him as he left that he sent a nearly 20-page letter, lambasting employees’ behaviour.
As Flanagan encountered repeated tensions with others around him, he described himself as the aggrieved and unappreciated victim.
“How heartless can you be? My entire life was disrupted after moving clear across the country for a job only to have my dream turn into a nightmare,” Flanagan wrote in a letter to a judge filed as part of his 2013 lawsuit against the television station. “Your Honour, I am not the monster here.”
The lawsuit was dismissed in July 2014. But in recent weeks, Flanagan laid careful plans for retribution. He contacted ABC News about what he claimed was a story tip and filled his Facebook page with photos and video montages seemingly designed to introduce himself to a larger audience.
On Wednesday, Flanagan killed 24-year-old Alison Parker, a reporter for WDBJ, and cameraman Adam Ward, 27, while the two conducted a live interview for the station’s morning broadcast, then went online to claim that they had wronged him in the past.
After the killing, Flanagan texted a friend suggesting he had “done something stupid,” investigators wrote in a search warrant.
He turned the gun on himself when police caught up to him a few hours later. Inside his rental car, investigators found extra licence plates, a wig, shawl, sunglasses and a hat as well as some stamped letters and a “to do” list.
Colleagues of the slain journalists returned to their morning show in a broadcast that opened with images of Parker and Ward.
“We come to you with heavy hearts. Two of our own were shot during a live shot yesterday morning,” said Kim McBroom, the anchor whose open-mouthed shock was seen around the world on Wednesday after Ward’s camera recorded the attack.
Later, during an afternoon news conference, the station’s general manager, Jeffrey Marks, recalled a series of problems with Flanagan while he worked at WDBJ from March 2012 to February 2013.
Flanagan accused a news photographer of trespassing on private property. He confronted an anchor over a story and attempted to reach the company’s CEO to complain. He filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as the lawsuit.
But there was no inkling then or since of what was to come, Mr Marks said.
“We are still at a loss to figure out what happened to him in those two and a half years,” he added.
Flanagan’s conflicts with others in recent years seemed to contradict the memory of some who recalled him as an outgoing student in Oakland, California, who was chosen junior prince at Skyline High School’s homecoming or as a classmate at San Francisco State University who relished being in the spotlight during group presentations.
“He was such a nice guy, just a soft spoken, well dressed, good looking guy. He never had any problems, no fights, nothing like that,” said a high school classmate, Chris Dobbins, now an Oakland attorney.
A cousin, Guynell Smith, 69, who was at Flanagan’s father’s home in Vallejo, California, told reporters that the family was unaware of any troubles. “He was just a normal kid,” she said. “We knew Vester a different way.”
The husband of Vicki Gardner, who was shot by Flanagan as she was being interviewed by Ms Parker, said his wife was hit on the right side of her lower back while dropping to the ground in an attempt to avoid the bullets.
She has undergone surgery to remove a kidney and part of her colon.
Tim Gardner said his heart goes out to the families of Ms Parker and Mr Ward.
Despite his sorrow, he said he was overjoyed that his wife of 40 years is alive.
He added: “I would hate to have lost my partner of 40 years to a madman.”
Later Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring joined several hundred people at a candlelight vigil outside television station WDBJ to remember Ms Parker and Me Ward.
He said he wanted to be there “to let all the folks in the community know that the entire commonwealth is thinking about them.”
Mr Herring, who has advocated gun control measures, said, “We need to quit thinking we can walk away from tragedies like this and that the problem is going to go away by itself.”
The vigil was organised by a community group, Stop the Violence Star City.
Many of those who attended the vigil said they had been watching the station when the shooting occurred.