The killer journalist who shot two former colleagues to death on-air was falling apart well before the attack—keeping a spartan apartment soaked in cat urine, and even being ordered to seek help before he was fired, court records and reports indicate.
Vester Flanagan’s Roanoke, Virginia, residence may have hinted at his deteriorating mental state. His drab apartment was reportedly covered in cat urine and cat feces littered his balcony.
Neighbors say Flanagan had two felines, which they say went missing after the murders. The neighbors also repeatedly complained about Flanagan to the landlord, The Telegraph reported.
“He would literally just throw cat shit into their balconies,” one source familiar with the murder investigation told the newspaper.
Before Flanagan gunned down WDBJ-TV reporters Adam Ward, 27, and Alison Parker, 24, on Wednesday morning, he left behind a home plastered with pictures of male pin-ups and photographs of himself in younger days, according to reports.
Police also allegedly discovered a gay pride flag and sex toys with “human material” on them inside his $600-a-month pad, which was otherwise barely decorated, according to The Telegraph.
Photographs taken inside after the attack show a bare mattress, a refrigerator covered with glamour shots of Flanagan himself, and a computer desk next to a plastic beige lawn chair. His bathroom counter was covered with two-dozen red tealight candles.
It’s unclear how Flanagan, 41, spent the last two years before being fired from WDBJ-TV in February 2013 for what his employer called volatile behavior. His LinkedIn profile listed no other recent work experience besides his year-long stint at the Roanoke TV station.
Just hours after Flanagan murdered the young journalists, then posted video of the heinous slaying on social media before killing himself, he allegedly sent a 23-page manifesto to ABC News under the name Bryce Williams—his on-air name at WDBJ.
In the suicide note, Flanagan claimed he purchased a gun two days after the mass killing of black parishioners at a Charleston, South Carolina, church and said he hoped to spark the “race war” shooter Dylann Roof vowed to start.
Flanagan reportedly rattled off a litany of grievances—including that he was attacked by black men and white women; that he was attacked for being a gay black man; and that he faced racial discrimination, bullying, and sexual harassment at work, ABC News reported.
In the manifesto, Flanagan also claimed he took his cats—one of which he’d named Kangawoo, according to a post on his now defunct Facebook page—to a forest and killed them. He said he offed his pets “because of them,” apparently referring to his ex-colleagues.
He added that he’d endured “tough times” and that he was “proud” of once working as a male escort. (Before his Twitter account was suspended Wednesday, Flanagan wrote on August 19: “Hell yeah I’ve been a high paid ‘companion’ You wish u could too!! Lol.”)
“Yeah I'm all fucked up in the head,” he concluded in his missive.
On Thursday, other local residents came out of the woodwork to describe their strange run-ins with Flanagan.
Flanagan reportedly penned angry missives to a Roanoke restaurant months before the attack, the Associated Press reported.
Heather Fay, a manager at a Jack Brown’s beer and burger joint, said Flanagan delivered a 15- to 20-page note bashing waitstaff for using the phrase “have a nice day” to diners instead of “thank you.”
She told the AP she wrote down Flanagan’s name and a summary of his rant in her manager’s notebook.
Meanwhile, it was revealed that Flanagan had a wig, a to-do list, and six magazines of ammunition inside the rental car he used to flee before he shot himself in the head.
Cops also discovered 17 stamped letters, a briefcase with three license plates, a shawl, and umbrella, according to an NBC News report.After WDBJ terminated him over poor job performance, Flanagan sued for racial discrimination in 2013. The case was dismissed a year later.“I can remember one day in particular... leaving the courthouse... feeling overwhelmed... confused... even some fear. But by golly I knew I HAD to fight. ... They truly fucked with my life and caused an awful chain of events,” Flanagan wrote to ABC News.Court records show Flanagan had a history of intimidating co-workers. Indeed, the day WDBJ canned Flanagan, bosses had to call 911 because of his threatening response—which was captured on camera by Ward, court papers show.
In a July 2012 letter to Flanagan, manager Dan Dennison apparently demanded he seek outside help and noted his “behaviors continue to cause a great deal of friction with your coworkers” and that he “must make improvements immediately or you will face termination of employment.”
Dennison said Flanagan was “required to contact Health Advocate, the employee assistance program.”
Meanwhile, the New York Daily News offered a glimpse into Flanagan’s childhood in Oakland, California, reporting Thursday that Flanagan’s mother was accused of violent “outbursts”—which included threats to kill her husband and her kids.
The paper obtained 1980s court documents from Betty Flanagan’s divorce from her husband, Vester Lee Flanagan Sr. when the younger Vester was just 8 years old. The elder Flanagan reportedly requested an emergency restraining order, claiming Betty was “extremely menacing and threatening.”
“She has also repeatedly threatened my life, at least on one occasion threatening to shoot me in my sleep, and the children have heard these threats and are understandably upset,” the father wrote in court documents.
The dad also claimed Vester Jr.’s mother “threatened the children with a brush and a belt, and had I not removed these weapons from her hands, I am certain she would have used them on the children.”
A judge awarded Vester Flanagan—who was reportedly once drafted as a linebacker for the Green Bay Packers—custody of his children and granted Betty visitation, the Daily News reported. Before his death, Flanagan wrote on Twitter that he was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness.One of Flanagan’s childhood friends told People.com that the troubled TV reporter took it hard when his mother died in 2008. “That’s when we fell out of touch,” said the pal. “He just withdrew to himself and cut off all contact with anyone from his past. You could tell he was in a lot of pain.”After graduating from San Francisco State University in 1995, Flanagan did stints at TV stations in San Francisco, Texas, Georgia, and North Carolina, though no job seemed to stick. In 1999, a Tallahassee, Florida, station let him go after he “threatened to punch people out,” his former boss recalled.
Back then, Flanagan sued the Florida station for racial discrimination, claiming supervisors called him and another African-American colleague “monkeys.” The case was settled out of court, records show.
A decade later, Flanagan appeared to be repeating history—this time filing a discrimination case against his Roanoke employer.
In letters to the judge, Flanagan referred to a watermelon that he felt was placed in the newsroom as a racist symbol, outed supposed bad behavior from other employees, and pointed fingers at his former boss, Dan Dennison, for overblowing the firing incident that saw Flanagan escorted out of the building by police.
“Mr. Dennison mentioned numerous times that I was a big man. So what? Because I am a large Black man I am a threat? That’s racist in and of itself,” Flanagan wrote.
“Your Honor, I am not the monster here,” Flanagan continued. “I get along with my current co-workers AND I was just recognized by a senior manager at corporate. That sure doesn’t sound like the monster I was painted to be.”
The court documents also show a troubling relationship with Flanagan’s future victims.
One supervisor recalled Flanagan discussing allegedly “racist” statements from former intern Alison Parker, who is referred to in the memo as Alison Bailey. “One was something about ‘swinging’ by some place; the other was out in the ‘field,’” the boss wrote.
Still, a former African-American classmate of Parker’s at James Madison University told the AP that she and Parker bonded, and that Parker gave her a job recommendation.Jessica Albert, who works for WCTI in Greenville, North Carolina, said Parker never mentioned problems with Flanagan.“When I took this job, she recommended me. She did that for me, so she’s definitely not a racist,” said Albert.