(CNN)The job offer seemed a promising start for Vester Flanagan:
He would be a multimedia journalist using the name Bryce
Williams at WDBJ making $17.31 an hour, or $36,000 yearly, in
But it took only two months on the job for him to receive a
written note in his personnel file about how he made co-workers
feel "threatened and uncomfortable" with abusive verbal and body
language on three occasions, according to court documents.
Two more months later, Flanagan faced a written warning that he
would be fired unless he improved immediately. His harsh
language and aggressive gestures were causing "a great deal of
friction" with photographers and other co-workers at the TV
station in Roanoke, Virginia, documents say.
Supervisors ordered him to get help through an employee
assistance program because of his "anger and his inability to
work with colleagues from time to time," said Jeffrey Marks,
WDBJ's general manager.
Flanagan complied. But in the end, he was fired after 11 months
on the job.
On the day he was fired -- February 1, 2013 -- the station's
human resources representative called 911 because Flanagan
warned, "I'm not leaving, you're going to have to call the
f***ing police. ... I'm going to make a stink and it's going to
be in the headlines."
Flanagan tossed his news director a small wooden cross and
added, "You need this."
The director then cleared the newsroom, and police removed
Flanagan's brief, troubled tenure at WDBJ was revealed in court
papers filed in his lawsuit claiming racial discrimination and
wrongful termination. A Roanoke city judge dismissed the lawsuit
on July 2, more than a month before Flanagan, 41, went on a
rampage and killed two station journalists and then himself.
Trying to understand why
A day after the shootings, WDBJ executives struggled to say what
they could have done differently with the troubled employee.
"There were probably things we can do," Marks said. "We can
probably screen more, but by and large we get great employees
here. One is going to slip through the cracks every now and
then. I'm very proud of our hiring record."
Station employees said they had interacted with Flanagan without
incident since he was fired, which makes his actions this week
all the more baffling to them, Marks said. Flanagan lost his
complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission, he said.
"We're still at a loss to figure out what happened to him in
those 2½ years," Marks said.
Before hiring him, the station called Flanagan's references, who
all gave positive reviews, he said.
But Marks noted: "It's very hard to get a negative reference
these days. Most companies have policies that forbid their
people from giving references. And so what you get a lot of is
name, rank and serial number.
"I think anybody can make positive references happen if they try
hard enough, so we exhausted what we could on that," he said.
As for Flanagan's on-air and writing ability, Marks said that "I
don't think he was the strongest quality applicant we've ever
had, but he passed muster of the news management team at that
A dangerous 'injustice collector'
Flanagan displayed traits of what a former FBI profiler calls
"an injustice collector," someone who blames others for their
problems, asserts nothing is their fault and contends everyone
is insulting them even when it's not true.
But Flanagan seems to have been a dangerous kind of injustice
collector, because he showed aggression and made threats, said
Mary Ellen O'Toole, a psychologist and a former FBI agent for 28
years who worked in the Behavioral Analysis Unit.
More professionals are offering expertise and guidance to
corporations, businesses and universities on how to fire or
expel potentially violent people such as Flanagan, she said.
"We get calls all the time on how do you fire this person,"
A psychologist, police officer, security expert, or mental
health professional is hired to keep in touch with the
individual even after he or she has been fired, she said. This
new field is advanced by the Association of Threat Assessment
Professionals, O'Toole said.
"Just cutting ties with him may feel good, but you have no idea
of what you unleash," she said.
The post-firing service is designed to defuse any potential
violence and help the individual get on with his life, O'Toole
"It's a new normal," she said. "It allows you to sit down with
someone, and you do it in a very therapeutic and supportive way."
Monitoring includes whether any police reports have been filed
against the fired employee for violent behavior.
"I know people will say that will cost a lot of money. I'm
talking one person out of 100 or maybe 500 who gets fired" who
may be potentially dangerous and need the service, she added.
"It's not a perfect science, and it never will be, but we're
pretty good at it," O'Toole said.
Newsroom films Flanagan's outburst
Flanagan's dismissal and confrontation with police were so
dramatic that staff photographer Adam Ward picked up a camera
and recorded the moment in the newsroom. On the day police led
him out of the office, Flanagan snarled at Ward, saying "lose
your big gut." Flanagan then flipped off Ward's camera.
It was Ward, 27, along with WDBJ reporter Alison Parker, 24, who
Flanagan killed Wednesday during a live remote broadcast.
Who were the victims?
They were interviewing Vicki Gardner, the executive director of
the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce, near
Moneta, Virginia. Gardner, who was wounded, was in stable
condition after surgery. Her husband said a bullet grazed her
Authorities are still investigating the circumstances of the
shooting, but Flanagan left behind a 23-page note that lists his
Trouble with performance, too
The station's internal records about Flanagan, filed in a
Roanoke court, also show that he was performing poorly on the
job in some areas.
His August 2012 performance review gave him an "unacceptable,"
the lowest score on a scale of 1 to 5, on his ability to work
with photographers, producers and assignment editors.
"The area where Bryce must make immediate improvement is with
photographers," wrote his supervisor, David Seidel.
Shooter's 23-page rant is filled with rage and praise
Flanagan also wasn't contributing to the Web frequently enough,
receiving a scoring category that is listed as "has an
opportunity for improvement." That amounted to a score of 2 on
the 1-to-5 scale, with 5 being the highest score.
"Bryce needs to incorporate web posting into his daily
schedule," Seidel wrote.
Flanagan confronts anchor over his script
By December 24, 2012, station news director Dan Dennison told
Flanagan that despite a lot of coaching, "you seem to have
reached a plateau," according to an internal memo.
Dennison cited recent examples of Flanagan's "lack of thorough
reporting, poor on-air performance, or time management issues,"
Dennison said Flanagan reported straight from a news release
"instead of doing some original reporting," documents said.
Flanagan also filed "gratuitous coverage and promotion" of a
church instead of using "critical thinking and questioning
skills to produce truly memorable television stories,"
Dennison's memo said.
And Flanagan continued to have problems with cameramen; he was
"curt and defensive" with one photographer who questioned him
about staging an interview, Dennison's note said.
Even with the written warnings, Flanagan didn't show improvement.
A meticulous plan for a live televised murder
In January 2013, the month before he was fired, Flanagan was the
subject of several internal memos about his performance and
Two days before he was fired, producer Kim Pinckney sent a note
to Dennison about how Flanagan "created an uncomfortable
situation" for anchor Nadia Singh because Flanagan questioned
her authority to review his script.
Dennison then wrote human resources representative Monica Taylor
about how the anchor described Flanagan as "very
confrontational" and "defensive."
"Nadia says she couldn't figure out initially what he was
driving at and (he) kept making the point that he had as much
experience as she does and why is she 'approving scripts,' "
Dennison wrote Taylor.
Dennison and Taylor fired Flanagan two days later.