Flanagan appeared to be a dangerous kind of "injustice collector," a former FBI profiler says
"One is going to slip through the cracks every now and then," a WDBJ executive says
Vester Flanagan received an admonishment in his personnel files after only two months on the job
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 early 2012.
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.
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.