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Before rampage, coworkers called him 'Taliban Tom'

CLEARWATER — In the days after Oliver Thomas Bernsdorff murdered his family, acquaintances said they were stunned that a man who talked about how much he loved his children could shoot them in cold blood.

But Clearwater police investigative records released today show that Bernsdorff, 36, showed signs of increasingly erratic behavior in the weeks and days leading up to the Dec. 14 shootings:

• Bernsdorff, a GED teacher for Pinellas County schools for 13 years, was disliked by his coworkers and apparently hated women, according to a school district employee interviewed by police. In the last weeks of his life, Bernsdorff began dressing all in black, sometimes wearing robes and head wrappings. That prompted coworkers to start referring to him as "Taliban Tom."

• Bernsdorff dated a woman he met online during the final 2 1/2 to 3 months of his life. After an incident where he kicked his ex-wife while picking up the children from a visitation, he became paranoid that police would come for him, according to the girlfriend, Melissa Redding. At one point, he also told her that he had two options: to take the children and flee the country, or to kill them, his ex-wife, her new girlfriend and himself. Then, three days before the shooting, he seemed to have had a breakthrough and seemed calm and happy.

• The day Bernsdorff picked up the 9mm semiautomatic pistol used in the murders, he declined the pawn shop owner's offer of a gun lock and pamphlet on gun safety and children, leaving them both on the counter.

•Bernsdorff told one of his co-workers, Nancy Hopp, that he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder about a year ago. A doctor put him on medication, but Bernsdorff didn't like the way it made him feel and stopped taking it after three weeks, she said.

Before rampage, coworkers called him 'Taliban Tom' 04/02/08 [Last modified: Monday, April 7, 2008 5:14pm]

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