Last fall, Vester Lee Flanagan II sent a rambling letter to a pawn shop and firearms dealer expressing his unsatisfactory experience after purchasing a television.
Flanagan, 41, a disgruntled ex-television reporter who killed two former WDBJ (Channel 7) colleagues on live television last week, also said in the letter that arrived in the mail in October 2014 that he was in the market for a firearm. The owner of Roanoke Firearms, Doug Brandt, kept it on file, because he knew he didn’t want to sell that man a firearm if he ever returned. He records all odd letters or interactions ever since former Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 students and professors in a campus shooting spree before killing himself in 2007, using a firearm he purchased from the shop Brandt now owns.
“It’s not often, but we keep anything weird we get in the mail,” Brandt said. “It was on the border of so ridiculous. Obviously, this was someone who was unstable.”
Flanagan mostly took issue with the cashier not thanking him for his purchase. Then he goes on for eight pages about why he feels the need to rant, the value of saying “thank you” and people complaining about being tired at work.
Flanagan legally purchased a Glock 9 mm pistol in July from a federally licensed gun dealer in Virginia, according to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Spokesman Tom Faison declined to name the dealer.
Flanagan purchased more than one gun in July, but Faison declined to say how many. It was not clear if the weapon Flanagan used to kill WDBJ reporter Alison Parker, 24, and cameraman Adam Ward, 27, and wound Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce leader Vicki Gardner was the same one that he used to fatally shoot himself several hours later during a police chase.
At least one of the guns was the same make and model as one used by Cho, the ATF spokesman said.
In a manifesto sent to ABC News, Flanagan reportedly expressed admiration for Cho, calling him “my boy.” But it’s unclear whether Flanagan wanted to emulate Cho by purchasing the same firearm or considering purchasing a firearm at the same gun shop. Brandt said people who visit the pawn shop frequently check out the guns on the other half of the building on Cove Road, but he doesn’t know how closely Flanagan looked at any firearms.
The letter to Roanoke Firearms was addressed to John Markell, the former owner. Markell, rattled by the Virginia Tech shooting, sold the business to Brandt before the one-year anniversary of the shooting. Markell thinks Flanagan addressed the letter to him because his name still turns up on Internet searches with the gun shop because of the shooting.
“I don’t understand the people who do these things,” Markell said. “We don’t need people like [Flanagan] owning a gun.”
Traces of Flanagan’s bizarre writings have turned up around the Roanoke area in the days after he killed the WDBJ journalists.
A few months ago, Flanagan wrote a rambling 15- to 20-page letter to Jack Brown’s Beer & Burger Joint in downtown Roanoke. Among other things, he criticized restaurant employees for saying “have a nice day” to departing patrons, instead of “thank you.”
Another letter, dated in July, turned up at Wasabi’s, a Japanese restaurant downtown, complaining that employees were saying “have a nice day” and not “thank you.” He signed the letter with an alias, which he sometimes used when ordering takeout food, an owner said.
The letters aren’t threatening or mention violence, but they’re weird, Brandt said.
“There was nothing in that letter to make anyone believe this was a violent individual,” he said. “No one would probably think he would snap. But I think he was a disturbed individual.”