WYTHEVILLE, Va. — Warren "Gator" Taylor was tired of driving, so he pulled off the interstate in this Blue Ridge Mountain town to buy gas and food. The Tennessee man had been angry at the government for months, even years, federal officials said Thursday, and this seemed like as good a place as any to use the handguns and mock explosives he had packed in his beloved red pickup.
After breakfast at a local eatery and a steak at Applebee's, he pushed his wheelchair through the door of the post office Wednesday afternoon, officials said, slammed what looked like a bomb on the counter and took three people hostage.
Just over eight hours later, after demanding only a pizza he shared with his captives and a pack of cigarettes for a hostage who smoked, he let them go, wheeled himself outside in his chair and surrendered.
"There was no mission statement. No demands made. No purpose in what he was doing. There was no reason for any of it," said Jimmy Oliver, 41, one of the hostages, who spoke with the Associated Press at his mother's floral shop. "He just wanted to destroy a federal building with a lot of people.
"Once we established a relationship, he decided destroying people wasn't in the cards."
Oliver, who said he had served 18 years in the military, said he told the gunman he was a former staff sergeant, hoping for mercy.
Slowly, the gunman opened up, saying he had been in the Marines for 20 years and was proud of his military experience. On Thursday, military officials could not immediately locate any record that Taylor served.
In the last few years, the gunman told Oliver and the others, his life had headed south. He said his son had been killed in Afghanistan; the Associated Press could not immediately find any record corroborating that.
The gunman said he had no money, and his 2007 red Dodge diesel pickup truck was about to be repossessed. Mostly, he railed against the government — high taxes, gun control, and President Barack Obama.
"He was really down on the government," Oliver said. "About the government taking over the right to bear arms … he was angry at the government overtaxing us."
As the night dragged on and negotiations continued, the gunman allowed the hostages to call their families. Finally, the tired gunman turned to his hostages and told them, "It's over." He unloaded three of his four guns and waited with the hostages until police ordered them out of the building an hour later. The three hostages came out one at a time, followed by Taylor, who raised his hands and shirt to show he was unarmed.
During an arraignment Thursday in U.S. District Court in Roanoke on kidnapping and other charges, he said nothing save a brief apology to people in the courtroom.
"I'm sorry I got everybody out on Christmas," said Taylor, 53, of Sullivan County, Tenn., who sat in his wheelchair wearing blue jeans and a black T-shirt. A judge ordered him to have a mental evaluation.
A woman who answered the door at Taylor's trailer in the Beverly Hills Mobile Home Park in Bristol, Tenn., identified herself as Barbara but would not give her last name. She said she was his girlfriend and they spent a lot of time talking about the Bible and religion. Her Christmas gift to him was going to be an index to the Bible.
The Roanoke Times reported Thursday that Taylor has been in and out of the court system in Florida since 1986.
In 1993, Taylor made headlines when he ambushed and shot at his ex-wife in Bradenton. He was charged with attempted second-degree murder for firing shots at Karen Taylor, then 41, in the parking lot of Beall's Department Stores Distribution Center, where she worked.
He shot her with a small-caliber handgun once in each ankle and once in a thigh, according to reports in the Bradenton Herald. He apparently was angry with his ex-wife and blamed her because he appeared on a local television news segment of Crime Stoppers, the newspaper reported. He was wanted on sexual battery and lewd and lascivious behavior charges stemming from 1991 incidents involving a teenage girl.