TIME Crime

Deadly Attack on Texas Cop Was ‘Clearly Unprovoked’

There was no evidence sheriff's deputy Darren Goforth and his attacker knew each other

(HOUSTON) — The man charged with capital murder in the fatal shooting of a uniformed suburban Houston sheriff’s deputy will be arraigned this week, jail records show.

Shannon J. Miles, who has a criminal history that includes convictions for resisting arrest and disorderly conduct with a firearm, is due in court Monday. Court and jail records did not list an attorney for the 30-year-old Houston resident.

His arrest Saturday came less than 24 hours after authorities said he ambushed Darren Goforth, a 10-year veteran of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, at a suburban Houston Chevron station.

Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman said the attack was “clearly unprovoked,” and there is no evidence so far that Goforth knew Miles. Investigators have no information from Miles that would shed light on his motive, Hickman said.

“Our assumption is that he was a target because he wore a uniform,” the sheriff said.

Goforth, 47, was pumping gas at a Chevron station Friday night in Cypress, a middle-class to upper middle-class suburban area of Harris County that is unincorporated and located northwest of Houston, when the gunman approached him from behind and fired multiple shots, continuing to fire after the deputy had fallen to the ground.

A vigil was held Saturday night at the gas station, where members of the community were joined by law enforcement officers. GoForth’s wife, Kathleen Goforth, released a statement Saturday to Houston television station KPRC-TV that said her husband was “ethical; the right thing to do is what guided his internal compass.”

The killing evoked strong emotions in the local law enforcement community, with Sheriff Ron Hickman linking it to heightened tension over the treatment of African-Americans by police. Goforth was white and Miles is black.

The nationwide “Black Lives Matter” movement that formed after 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri has sought sweeping reforms of policing. Related protests erupted in Texas recently after a 28-year-old Chicago-area black woman, Sandra Bland, was found dead in a county jail about 50 miles northwest of Houston three days after her arrest on a traffic violation. Texas authorities said she committed suicide but her family is skeptical of that.

Hickman and Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson pushed back against the criticism of police on Saturday.

“We’ve heard Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter. Well, cops’ lives matter, too,” Hickman said.

TIME Crime

Suspect Charged in Shooting of Houston Sheriff’s Deputy

Deputy Shot-Houston
Harris County Sheriff’s Office/AP Suspect in the death of Deputy Darren Goforth, who was shot several times while filling up his patrol car at a suburban Houston gas station on Aug. 28, 2015.

The officer was shot from behind while filling up his vehicle

(HOUSTON) — Texas prosecutors on Saturday charged a 30-year-old man with capital murder in the killing of a uniformed sheriff’s deputy who was gunned down from behind while filling his patrol car with gas in what officials described as a “senseless and cowardly act.”

The arrest of Shannon J. Miles — who has a criminal history that includes convictions for resisting arrest and disorderly conduct with a firearm — came less than 24 hours after authorities said he ambushed Darren Goforth, a 10-year veteran of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, at a suburban Houston Chevron station.

“I am proud of the men and women that have worked swiftly to apprehend the responsible person who posed a significant threat to both law enforcement and the community at large,” Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman said at a news conference. “Our deputies return to the streets tonight to hold a delicate peace that was shattered last evening.”

Court and jail records did not list an attorney for Miles.

Hickman said the motive for the killing had not been determined but investigators would look at whether Miles, who is black, was motivated by anger over recent killings elsewhere of black men by police that have spawned the “Black Lives Matter” protest movement. Goforth was white.

“I think that’s something that we have to keep an eye on,” Hickman said. “The general climate of that kind of rhetoric can be influential on people to do things like this. We’re still searching to find out if that’s actually a motive.”

Hickman said investigators are working on the assumption “that he was a target because he wore a uniform.”

Goforth, 47, was pumping gas Friday night when the gunman approached him from behind and fired multiple shots, continuing to fire after the deputy had fallen to the ground.

The deputy had gone to the Chevron gas station in Cypress, a middle-class to upper middle-class suburban area of Harris County that is unincorporated and located northwest of Houston, after responding to a routine car accident earlier Friday.

Earlier on Saturday, Hickman had called the killing a “cold-blooded assassination.”

“Cops’ lives matter, too,” Hickman said then. “So why don’t we drop the qualifier and say lives matter.”

Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson echoed Hickman’s sentiments.

“There are a few bad apples in every profession. That does not mean there should be open warfare declared on law enforcement,” she said.

In a statement Saturday, Gov. Greg Abbott said “heinous and deliberate crimes against law enforcement will not be tolerated” and that the state “reveres the men and women in law enforcement who put their lives on the line every day to protect and serve their communities.”

Hickman said Miles had been in the custody of authorities “all night.” Authorities earlier Saturday said they had been speaking with a person of interest but had not identified that individual.

Court records of Miles’ previous arrests show he lived at a home that deputies searched earlier Saturday and where a red truck, similar to one that authorities said left the scene of the shooting, was found. Hickman credited the work of investigators and “routine research” that found the truck that led to “the suspect responsible for this senseless and cowardly act.”

An impromptu memorial sprouted at the pump Goforth had used Friday night, with a pile of balloons, flowers, candles and notes, including one that said, “Gone but never forgotten R.I.P. Deputy Goforth.” The gas station was open Saturday, but that pump was closed.

Brian McCullar knew Goforth because the deputy had patrolled his neighborhood, which is about two miles from the gas station, and the two spoke often.

“He was passionate about what he did,” the 49-year-old said, adding, “We’re still in shock. … It’s a huge loss for his family. It’s a huge loss for this area.” Goforth had a wife and two children.

“You’re talking about a guy that made a difference,” McCullar said.

TIME Crime

Houston Sheriff’s Deputy Killed in Gas Station Ambush

"Cops' lives matter, too," said Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman

(HOUSTON) — Authorities on Saturday had yet to find the suspect in what they’re calling the “cold-blooded assassination” of a uniformed sheriff’s deputy who was fatally shot while filling up his patrol car at a suburban Houston gas station.

The death of Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy Darren Goforth prompted pleas for the public’s help in finding the shooter and also strong statements from about the recent climate of tension between civilians, law enforcement and the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

“Our system of justice absolutely requires a law enforcement presence to protect our community,” Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman said at a news conference. “So at any point when the rhetoric ramps up to the point where calculated cold-blooded assassination of police officers happens, this rhetoric has gotten out of control.

“We’ve heard Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter. Well, cops’ lives matter, too. So why don’t we drop the qualifier and say lives matter.”

Goforth, 47, was pumping gas about 8:30 p.m. Friday when a man approached him from behind and fired multiple shots, continuing to fire after the deputy had fallen to the ground. Hickman said surveillance video shows there were people at the gas station and asked that they reach out with any information that could lead to the suspect.

Police have described the suspect as a male with a dark complexion, about 5-foot-10 to 6 feet tall, wearing a white T-shirt and red shorts. Authorities did not say what race they believe him to be.

Earlier Saturday, Harris County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Deputy Thomas Gilliland said officials were questioning a person of interest and had a search warrant for a two-story brick home. Hickman said authorities were looking at a red pickup truck at the house, which is about a quarter-mile from the gas station, due to the description of the suspect driving a red or maroon truck with an extended cab.

Goforth was a 10-year veteran of the force, had a wife and two children, Hickman said. As for a motive, Hickman said that until anything is known with “certainty … it’s all speculation” but later suggested that Goforth was targeted because he was in law enforcement.

Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson called on what she described as “the silent majority in this country to support law enforcement.”

“There are a few bad apples in every profession. That does not mean there should be open warfare declared on law enforcement,” she said.

In a statement Saturday, Gov. Greg Abbott said “heinous and deliberate crimes against law enforcement will not be tolerated” and that the state “reveres the men and women in law enforcement who put their lives on the line every day to protect and serve their communities.”

The deputy had gone to the Chevron gas station in Cypress, a middle-class to upper middle-class suburban area of Harris County that is unincorporated and located northwest of Houston, after responding to a routine car accident earlier Friday.

An impromptu memorial sprouted at the pump he had used Friday night, with a pile of balloons, flowers, candles and notes, including one that said, “Gone but never forgotten R.I.P. Deputy Goforth.” The gas station was open Saturday, but that pump was closed.

Brian McCullar knew Goforth because the deputy had patrolled his neighborhood, which is about two miles from the gas station, and the two spoke often.

“He was passionate about what he did,” the 49-year-old said, adding, “We’re still in shock. … It’s a huge loss for his family. It’s a huge loss for this area.

“You’re talking about a guy that made a difference,” McCullar said.

Detectives were checking security camera video for possible clues. The search for the suspect includes Harris County sheriff’s deputies and homicide investigators and officers from the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Houston Police Department.

TIME Crime

Third Victim of Virginia Shooting Is Awake and Talking, Family Says

She lost a kidney and part of her colon in shooting that killed Alison Parker and Adam Ward

Vicki Gardner, the third woman who was hurt during the on-air shooting of two TV journalists in Virginia this week, has survived two surgeries and is awake and talking, her family said in a statement Friday.

Gardner was being interviewed by WDBJ journalist Alison Parker when Vester Flanagan fired the shots that killed both Parker and cameraman Adam Ward. Gardner was shot once in the back. Her family says Gardner’s response to the shooting and subsequent surgeries revealed her strength and determination to survive. “After being injured and having witnessed the murders of Alison and Adam, she walked herself to the ambulance and called her husband to let him know what had happened,” they said in a statement to WDBJ.

Gardner endured two surgeries: one to address her life-threatening injuries, and the other to repair the damage done by the bullet. She lost her right kidney and had to have a portion of her colon removed, but her family said she is alert and talking.

Her family also expressed condolences to the families of Parker and Ward, and said they are “heartbroken” at their loss. “Adam and Alison always made getting up in the morning a little bit easier and a lot more fun,” they wrote.

TIME Crime

TSA Agent Arrested for Groping Passenger During Fake Search

Allegedly lured passenger into a bathroom, then groped her in bogus search for weapons

A Transportation Security Administration agent at LaGuardia airport was charged Friday with sexually abusing a female passenger on the bogus pretext of checking her for weapons.

The incident occurred earlier this week, when the 40-year-old TSA agent allegedly told the 21-year-old woman, a college student from Korea, that he needed to screen her for weapons after she had walked out of the sterile checkpoint area and into the area where passengers no longer need to be checked.

The woman asked to be screened by a female agent, according to a press release from the Queens District Attorney’s Office, but the TSA agent allegedly insisted she come into the bathroom with him. When she asked if all passengers were screened this way, he said they were. In the bathroom, the agent groped the victim, before saying into his cell phone something like “she’s clear, she doesn’t have any weapons or knives,” according to the DA’s office.

The TSA has terminated the agent and is cooperating with the Port Authority on the investigation, a TSA spokesman said. The DA’s office has charged the agent with unlawful imprisonment and sexual abuse. If convicted, he could face a year in prison. It was not immediately clear whether he has a lawyer.

TIME Crime

St. Paul’s School Leaders Respond to Rape Verdict

The entrance to the elite St. Paul’s School is seen Friday Aug. 14, 2015 in Concord, N.H., Monday, Aug. 17, 2015, Owen Labrie, a former student, goes on trial Monday, Aug. 17, 2015, for taking part in a practice at the school known as “Senior Salute” where graduating boys try to take the virginity of younger girls before the school year ends. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
Jim Cole—AP The entrance to the elite St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H., is seen on Aug. 14, 2015.

They note the perils of 21st-century dating

The leaders of St. Paul’s School wrote a letter to the school community Friday, denouncing the culture of sexual competition described in the trial of Owen Labrie, who was accused of raping a 15-year-old girl while they were both students at the school.

The letter from Rector Michael G. Hirschfeld and President of the Board of Trustees James M. Waterbury was sent just after a jury issued a mixed verdict in Labrie’s case Friday afternoon. The jury determined Labrie was not guilty of felony sexual assault but found him guilty of three related misdemeanor charges, and a felony charge of luring a minor through a computer. He will have to register as a sex offender and could face up to 11 years in prison.

The girl alleged Labrie raped her in a remote area of the school after sending her an invitation to participate in the “senior salute” ritual, a tradition in which upperclass boys are said to compete to “score” with as many girls as possible before graduation. Labrie said he and the girl never had sex. From the jury’s mixed verdict, it seems that they believe the pair had sex, but were divided on whether it was consensual.

In the letter to the St. Paul’s community, Hirschfeld and Waterbury said the sexual “traditions” discussed during the trial were not actually part of the school’s history. “Many terms, including ‘senior salute’ and ‘score’ that are part of the student vernacular, have been discussed as part of the trial,” the letter said. “There is no place for inappropriate and hurtful behavior that disrespects any member of our School. Conduct that is damaging to the fabric of our community and inconsistent with our values has never been—and will not be—tolerated.

“The Rector first heard about the ‘senior salute’ in the spring of 2013,” the letter continued. “It is not a decades-old ‘tradition’ as some have alleged.”

The St. Paul’s leaders also noted that the incident and subsequent trial could be considered a wake-up-call about the role of social media in romantic relationships, and how teenage sexual activity has changed in the 21st century.

“We have been painfully reminded of the fact that social media can provide an adult-free space for negative student culture to form and perpetuate itself,” Hirschfeld and Waterbury wrote. “We have learned that what was once termed ‘dating’ or ‘courting’ behavior has been inverted in some instances from our traditional sensibilities—sexual contact is now seen as the point of origin of many relationships, not a part of an emotionally developed relationship.”

TIME Crime

Former Prep School Student Acquitted of Rape

Owen Labrie
Cheryl Senter—AP Looking in the direction of the victim's family, former St. Paul's School student Owen Labrie, right, enters the courtroom with his defense attorney J.W. Carney for closing remarks in Labrie's rape trial at Merrimack Superior Court on Aug. 27, 2015, in Concord, N.H.

He was found guilty of misdemeanor sex offenses

(CONCORD, N.H.) — A graduate of an exclusive New England prep school was cleared of felony rape but convicted of misdemeanor sex offenses Friday against a 15-year-old freshman girl in a case that exposed a campus tradition in which seniors competed to see how many younger students they could have sex with.

A jury of nine men and three women took eight hours to reach its verdict in the case against 19-year-old Owen Labrie, of Tunbridge, Vermont, who was accused of forcing himself on the girl in a dark and noisy mechanical room at St. Paul’s School in Concord two days before he graduated in 2014.

He wept upon hearing the verdict, and his mother sobbed into a tissue.

Labrie, who was bound for Harvard and planned to take divinity classes before his arrest put everything on hold, was acquitted of the most serious charges against him — three counts of felony rape, each punishable by 10 to 20 years in prison — but was found guilty of three counts of misdemeanor sexual assault and other offenses. Each count carries up to a year behind bars.

The scandal cast a harsh light on the 159-year-old boarding school that has long been a training ground for politicians, Nobel laureates, corporate executives and other members of the country’s elite.

Prosecutors said the rape was part of Senior Salute, which Labrie described to detectives as a competition in which graduating seniors tried to have sex with underclassmen and kept score on a wall behind a set of washing machines.

Labrie, an aspiring minister, testified that he and the girl made out, but he said he stopped short of intercourse because he suddenly decided “it wouldn’t have been a good choice for me.” A detective quoted him as saying he had a moment of “divine inspiration” as he was about to put on a condom.

In his testimony, Labrie acknowledged bragging to friends that he had intercourse with the girl, but he said that was a lie told to impress them. He also admitted deleting 119 Facebook messages, including one in which he boasted that he “pulled every trick in the book” to have sex with her.

In graphic and sometimes tearful testimony, the girl, now 16, said she willingly went with Labrie to the rooftop of an academic building after he invited her to take part in Senior Salute, a tradition she said she knew about. But she said she was prepared for kissing at most.

She said Labrie soon become aggressive and she told him, “No, no, no” as he moved his face toward her crotch. She said he eventually penetrated her, and she felt “frozen” — incapable of moving or reacting.

“I tried to block out the feeling as much as I could,” she said. “I didn’t want to believe this was happening to me.”

Under cross-examination, she said she helped Labrie remove her shirt and pants. When questioned about breezy email and Facebook exchanges that she had with Labrie in the hours afterward, she explained that she kept the conversation light because she was trying to find out whether he had worn a condom.

Traces of sperm were found on the girl’s underwear but could not be conclusively linked to Labrie.

Alumni of St. Paul’s include Secretary of State John Kerry, who graduated in 1962 alongside former FBI Director Robert Mueller. “Doonesbury” creator Garry Trudeau also attended the school, as did at least 13 U.S. ambassadors, three Pulitzer Prize winners, actor Judd Nelson and sons of the Astor and Kennedy families. Students pay $53,810 a year in tuition, room and board.

After Labrie’s arrest, school officials said they would expel anyone participating “in any game, ‘tradition,’ or practice of sexual solicitation or sexual conquest under any name” and throw out those possessing keys or access cards they aren’t entitled to. Labrie was said to have used a key that was shared among seniors to get to restricted areas.

The school, which first admitted girls in 1971 and has about 530 students, also brought in experts to discuss topics including substance abuse, harassment and building healthy relationships.

Labrie was captain of the soccer team and said he attended the school on full scholarship. Defense attorney J.W. Carney told the jury that St. Paul’s treated Labrie “shabbily” by taking away an award he received for character and devotion to the school and not adding his name to the wall of all graduates.

TIME Crime

What Walmart’s Decision on Semi-Automatic Rifles Means for the Gun Control Debate

The retailer has strict regulations on the sale of guns

Walmart announced this week that it would stop selling so-called modern sporting rifles at its stores, including the AR-15, a semi-automatic firearm akin to those used in some of the country’s worst mass shootings in the last few years.

The nation’s largest retailer says it’s essentially replacing rifles like the AR-15 with hunting rifles and sportsman shotguns, giving customers roughly the same number of firearm choices as before. But some gun experts see Walmart’s move as a harbinger that the retailer could eventually decide to get out of the gun business altogether—which could have unexpected implications for the gun control movement, since Walmart has stricter policies on gun sales than most firearm retailers in the country.

“I think the day is coming when it’s going to difficult to buy a firearm from Walmart,” said John Roman, senior fellow at the Urban Institute.

While Walmart doesn’t release gun sales figures, it’s likely one of the country’s biggest gun sellers, if not the biggest. Roman said that without Walmart and its restrictions on gun sales, more buyers could be forced to the secondary market, where private sellers often don’t require background checks and don’t have gun sales policies that go beyond what is required by law.

“It’s an interesting conundrum for people who worry about the number of guns,” Roman said. “In the final analysis, Walmart’s decision [to stop selling modern sporting rifles] is good for society, but it’s not as simple as it looks, because if somebody buys these guns at Walmart and goes through a formal background check, it’s really unlikely that they’ll use them in a crime.”

In 2008, Walmart put in place stringent requirements on all gun transactions, including detailed recording of firearm sales, alerts when a gun bought from the retailer is used in a crime and expanded background checks for employees handling guns. The retailer also requires full approval from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which goes beyond the federally mandated minimum waiting requirement of three days to approve a sale. Many other retailers sell firearms after the waiting period is up even if there’s been no determination from NICS on the buyer’s criminal background.

The reason Walmart decided to stop carrying modern sporting rifles, including the AR-15, is because demand for those guns has been waning, a spokesperson said.

“This was something our customers weren’t really buying,” Walmart spokesperson Kory Lundberg said.

It’s unclear if demand for firearms like the AR-15, which was used in the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., is declining nationally. One of the few estimates on how many guns might be in the U.S. comes from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which found that from 2011 to 2013, the total number of firearms produced and available spiked. The number of rifles and shotguns produced in the U.S. jumped from about 3.2 million in 2011 to 5.2 million in 2013.

Michael Bazinet, a spokesperson for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, says that Supreme Court cases upholding gun rights, as well as an expansion of concealed carry laws and more women taking up target shooting, have actually led to increased demand for guns across the board.

However, Roman believes Walmart is correct that interest in rifles and semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15 may be decreasing, so the company has recognized that it’s not in its economic interest to continue selling them.

“The business case is the trade-off between people who don’t want to shop at Walmart because they’re available and those who buy these guns every two or three years,” Roman said. “For Walmart, that makes this an easy case.”

While Walmart wouldn’t provide gun sales figures, sales of semi-automatic rifles, which are only available at less than a third of Walmart’s stores, are likely a tiny percentage of the retailer’s bottom line, and more than half of all Walmarts sell no firearms at all.

Lundberg, Walmart’s spokesperson, says that the retailer will remove the rifles from its shelves within the next couple weeks. The ones that remain unsold will be returned to the suppliers.

TIME Crime

Virginia Teenager Sentenced to More Than 11 Years in Prison for Helping ISIS

ali amin
Joseph Flood Ali Shukri Amin on his 17th birthday, Sept. 30, 2014.

"I have not attempted to deny or explain away anything I have done"

(ALEXANDRIA, Va.) — A northern Virginia teenager was sentenced Friday to more than 11 years in prison for helping another teen travel to Syria to join the Islamic State and for providing other aid to the militant group.

The judge said he considered 17-year-old Ali Shukri Amin’s age and lack of a criminal record during sentencing in federal court in Alexandria. Amin told the judge he didn’t “expect sympathy.” Amin pleaded guilty in June to conspiring to provide material support to terrorists. The Manassas teen would have otherwise been graduating from high school with honors around the time of his plea. Juveniles rarely face charges in the federal system.

“I have not attempted to deny or explain away anything I have done,” Amin said. He said he has “resolved to not blindly become more radical.”

Defense attorney Joseph Flood had argued that a sentence of about six years was appropriate. He said in court that Amin’s Twitter account may have had some 4,000 followers but that “his influence was actually very small.”

In June, Flood said Amin was motivated by sincere religious beliefs and outrage at the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. He said Friday that Amin had been manipulated by older radicals and Amin has “repudiated ISIS” in conversations with family and religious leaders.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Ben’Ary said in court Friday that Amin “wasn’t being radicalized. He was radicalizing” others. He said Amin knew what he was doing was illegal.

“Today’s sentencing demonstrates that those who use social media as a tool to provide support and resources to ISIL will be identified and prosecuted with no less vigilance than those who travel to take up arms with ISIL,” U.S. Attorney Dana Boente said in a press release. “The Department of Justice will continue to pursue those that travel to fight against the United States and our allies, as well as those individuals that recruit others on behalf of ISIL in the homeland.”

Amin admitted that he helped 18-year-old Reza Niknejad to travel to Syria to join the group in January. FBI Assistant Director Andrew McCabe said that after taking Niknejad to the airport, Amin delivered a letter and thumb drive to Niknejad’s family informing them that they would likely never see him again.

“Today marks a personal tragedy for the Amin family and the community as we have lost yet another young person to the allure of extremist ideology focused on hatred,” McCabe said in a news release. “Amin’s case serves as a reminder of how persistent and pervasive online radicalization has become.”

Charges against Niknejad were unsealed in June, alleging he conspired to provide material support to terrorists and conspired to kill and injure people abroad. Boente said at the time that Niknejad made it to Syria.

As part of his plea, Amin also admitted to using Twitter to provide advice and encouragement to the Islamic State and its supporters. Through his Twitter handle Amreekiwitness — Amreeki translates to “American” — Amin provided instruction on how to use Bitcoin, a virtual currency, to mask funds going to the group and helped supporters seeking to travel to Syria to fight with the group, court documents said.

TIME Crime

Gunman in on-air Deaths Remembered as a ‘Professional Victim’

Vester Flanagan's hair-trigger temper became evident at least 15 years ago

(ROANOKE, Va.)—The man who was news director during Vester Flanagan’s rocky tenure at Virginia station WDBJ-TV described him as someone who constantly saw himself being victimized by others.

Dan Dennison described Flanagan, who shot and killed a reporter and a cameraman on live television Wednesday, as a “professional victim” during his time at the station before being fired in 2013.

“He was victimized by everything and everyone and could never quite grasp the fact that he was the common denominator in all of these really sometimes serious interpersonal conflicts that he had with people,” Dennison said.

Flanagan, 41, interpreted efforts by the station to improve his performance and persuade him to work more cooperatively with colleagues as discrimination, said Dennison, who now works as a communications manager at the Hawaii state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

On the day he was fired, Flanagan pressed a wooden cross into Dennison’s hand and said, “You’ll need this,” as two police officers escorted him out. Flanagan’s departure then was filmed by Adam Ward, the cameraman who was killed along with reporter Alison Parker during an on-air interview Wednesday morning.

Dennison said the station had no idea of his shortcomings before he was hired there and he had received positive recommendations.

Flanagan’s hair-trigger temper became evident at least 15 years ago at WTWC-TV in Tallahassee, Florida, said Don Shafer, who hired him there in 1999. Shafer recalled Flanagan as a good reporter and a “clever, funny guy” — but said he also had conflicts with co-workers “to the point where he was threatening people.”

“Had some physical confrontations with a couple of people, and at one point became such a distraction that we finally had to terminate him,” said Shafer, now news director with XETV in San Diego.

After stints in California, Florida and North Carolina, Flanagan’s last television job was at WDBJ in Roanoke.

Others who ran across Flanagan after he lost his job at WDBJ described a man increasingly irked by slights more often imagined than real.

A former co-worker at a UnitedHealthcare call center where Flanagan worked until late 2014 said he tried to grab her shoulder and told her never to speak to him again after she offhandedly said he was unusually quiet.

The manager of a bar in Roanoke said Flanagan was so incensed when no one thanked him for his business as he left the tavern that he sent a nearly 20-page letter, lambasting employees’ behavior.

Flanagan described himself in a court document as an 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 WDBJ-TV. “Your Honor, 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, after killing Parker, 24, and Ward, 27, he went online to claim they had wronged him in the past.

He also 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 license plates, a wig, shawl, sunglasses and a hat as well as some stamped letters and a “to do” list.

On Thursday, 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.

Flanagan’s joking and smiling one minute could turn to anger in the next, former colleague Justin McLeod said.

Once, for no apparent reason, Flanagan told a photographer he knew the man didn’t like him because he was gay. The photographer told Flanagan he hadn’t known about his sexual orientation, McLeod said.

Former co-workers, surprised that Flanagan had stayed in town after losing his job, passed him from time to time. They called them “Bryce sightings,” referring to Flanagan’s on-air name, Bryce Williams, McLeod said.

Others who crossed paths with Flanagan during that time, said he took offense easily.

Heather Fay, general manager of Jack Brown’s Beer & Burger Joint in downtown Roanoke, said she threw out a lengthy letter Flanagan had sent, criticizing the staff for telling customers to “have a nice day” instead of “thank you.”

“It was bizarre, for sure,” she said.

Fay said there was no indication the author was contemplating a crime.

Flanagan’s interpersonal conflicts were at odds with the outgoing student some recalled in Oakland, California, where he was chosen junior prince at Skyline High School’s homecoming. At San Francisco State University, Flanagan 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 had stopped by Flanagan’s father’s home in Vallejo, California, told reporters the family was unaware of any troubles. “He was just a normal kid,” she said. “We knew Vester a different way.”

Read next: What We Know About Virginia Shooting Victims Alison Parker and Adam Ward

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