For FSU shooter, strong start followed by mental unraveling

The gunman who shot three people at Florida State University's library early Thursday before being killed by police was Myron May, a lawyer who graduated from the school, a law enforcement official told the Associated Press. []
The gunman who shot three people at Florida State University's library early Thursday before being killed by police was Myron May, a lawyer who graduated from the school, a law enforcement official told the Associated Press. []
Published Dec. 22, 2014

WEWAHITCHKA — There was a knock on the door of the home in this tiny town not 75 miles from Tallahassee, and at the doorstep stood the man who, in a few weeks time, would open fire on students in the library at Florida State University.

Myron May, a 31-year-old alumnus, had returned to the state that had raised him.

He had driven to Wewahitchka from New Mexico, where things had not been going so well. He told Abigail Taunton, a long-time family friend whose boys he had run cross-country with, that he was considering declaring bankruptcy.

Taunton listened as May leveled an even more alarming confession: He was afraid, he told the woman, that someone was trying to kill him. Back in New Mexico, he had opened his door to see a man across the street pointing a gun at him.

What May did not say, and perhaps did not know himself — just weeks before he was shot by Tallahassee police after refusing to stop his own attack — was that this New Mexican hit-man was only a small piece of his mental unraveling.

For at least three months, documents obtained by the Tampa Bay Times show, the man who shot and wounded three people at Florida State University suffered delusions consistent with a significant mental illness.

Atlanta TV station WSB reported late Thursday that eight people who knew May have been told to expect packages from him in the mail on Friday. Police have told the eight to notify them as soon as the packages arrive, the report said.

On Thursday, Tallahassee police Chief Michael DeLeo said that May had a written journal and videos where he details fears of "being targeted."

"Preliminary review of these documents and videos demonstrate that Mr. May was in a state of crisis," the chief said.

On Sept. 7, May called police in Las Cruces, N.M., to complain that someone had installed a camera in his apartment, according to documents released to the Times. He told police he could hear voices coming through the walls, and the voices were talking about him. One evening, for instance, he heard the voices commenting on his actions as he applied lotion after a bubble bath.

A month later, on Oct. 6, May suddenly resigned his position as an assistant district attorney in New Mexico. The next night, his ex-girlfriend called Las Cruces police to her house, explaining that May was showing symptoms of a "severe mental disorder" that he had been hospitalized for several weeks prior.

May had stopped sleeping, sometimes for four or five nights in a row, and recently had taken an abrupt trip from New Mexico to Colorado, without saying why, Danielle Nixon told police. In addition to spending time at Mesilla Valley Hospital, she said, May was taking prescription drugs.

The night she called the police, Nixon said, May had shown up at her home rambling and gripping what looked like part of his car. She said he told her it was a camera and asked her to keep it for him. Police knocked on May's door for a welfare check, but records indicate they may have gone to the wrong apartment.

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He was not there. And then, he was back in Florida.

But when May showed up to that tiny town outside Tallahassee, all he told Taunton was that he feared for his life and had been unhappy with work. Taunton, 60, told May that he could stay in her guest house, a wooden building with a slanting green roof, while he looked for a place to live and studied to take the Florida bar exam in February.

"He seemed to be depressed," Taunton says now at the children's home she runs. "Not happy, not smiling like we all remembered him doing so well."

He was smiling on Aug. 18, 2001, his first day at Florida State, and that was because he loved and has always "loved the place," freshman year roommate Osei Boakye says.

They liked to argue about songs by the rapper Nas and drive from DeGraff Hall to Taco Bell. There, they'd sit in the car in the parking lot and eat boxes of 25-cent tacos and they'd free-style rap which, Boakye says, was pretty funny. They were so bad at it.

May was whip-smart and focused on his studies, eventually graduating cum laude with a bachelor's degree in economics. He drank rarely, and when he did, he never drank to get drunk. As for drugs, he told Abigail Taunton's husband, David, he only dabbled with marijuana.

Boakye introduced May and Anton Gammons, who remembers him as a "meek, humble guy" who was into church and liked to recite Bible verses.

"I know everyone says this," Gammons said, "but if you put 100 guys in a room and said one of them would be a shooter like this, Myron would be the last guy you would think it could be."

Everyone says this, and that includes Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, who worked with May in student government while they were both at Florida State.

Gaetz was president of the campus's Insight political party, which focused on community outreach programs. May, a member of the Student Senate, got involved in the party's community service committee. Gaetz remembers May wore a jersey with the nickname "Sensitive Joe" across the back.

"He was such a caring individual," Gaetz said. And what everyone says: "Of all the people I knew at Florida State, he would be at the bottom of my list of someone who would be aggressive in any way."

May could be paranoid, Boakye says, which feels like so much in hindsight. But in college, Boakye didn't think much of his friend's suspicions; nine times out of 10, May was right.

Like the time May kept saying — no, insisting — he was going to be fired from his campus job. This seemed silly to all of his friends. But May said his boss was looking at him funny. After he quit, he told Boakye that he had been right: His boss said he was planning to let May go.

After graduating from Florida State in 2005, May went on to law school at Texas Tech. He spoke so highly of his undergraduate days that, in 2008, he helped reactivate the college's chapter of Phi Beta Sigma, an African-American fraternity May had belonged to during his days in Tallahassee.

Asher Glasgow, pursuing his master's degree in education, was also a Phi Beta Sigma who brought the chapter back. The two men "clicked automatically," and although they spent most of their time studying, they'd go get a beer or catch a football game.

There in Lubbock, Glasgow got his heart broken. "It's going to be fine," his friend and fraternity brother would tell him. "There are other women out there." And, "Don't get to that boiling point."

Glasgow appreciated his support, so they kept in touch after law school. May did well, earning six figures at a Houston law firm. But while the pay was good, the work didn't satisfy him. "He wanted to help the community," says Boakye, who was also regularly in touch.

To that end, May moved to New Mexico. He worked as a prosecutor in the felony division of the third judicial district attorney's office in Las Cruces between January and October, following a stint with the public defender's office in the area.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, District Attorney Mark D'Antonio described May as likable and dedicated. "Everybody will tell you that he was efficient, very well-intentioned during his work, worked hard, and honestly was a very good public defender and a very good assistant district attorney," he said.

As a junior-level prosecutor in the office, May handled felony drunken driving cases, assaults and burglaries, D'Anotonio said, noting that May showed no signs of mental illness during his time as a prosecutor.

D'Anotonio said the last time he saw him was Oct. 2. He put his arm around May. "How are things going?" he asked.

May told him that everything was great.

When D'Antonio came to work the following Monday, he found a brief resignation letter from May on his desk.

"My office and my staff are in deep shock," D'Antonio said. "We're all quite put aside by this. We don't understand the nature of it. I don't understand all the facts. But it's extremely shocking to us all."

Boakye says he spoke to May last week. He seemed fine. They had planned to come back to FSU for homecoming this year, along with other college friends, but the plans had fallen through.

May's best friend from college hadn't been rattled to learn May had quit his job and moved back to Florida. May had wanted to start his own firm, and this seemed like a logical step, Boakye said.

Gammons says May had also discussed starting his own practice with him. They had been sharing advice about "hanging their shingles" over Facebook.

Abigail Taunton, the woman who let May stay in her family's guest house, said May spent his days studying for the bar using a computer prep course.

They let him stay at the cottage for free, knowing that he was in financial trouble. He told David Taunton that he a house payment close to $2,000 a month, though a tenant paid most of it. He also had a monthly payment for his car. They agreed to pay him $500 a month to help David research mineral rights.

The Tauntons knew he had left a lucrative job in Houston to make much less but do more meaningful work. They had known the man since he was 13, when he moved to the town with his grandmother, poor but religious. He spent so much time in their home.

Recently, the family went on a camping trip. May asked to come. He had never gone camping, he told the Tauntons' son, Josh.

So they took him, and Josh taught him how to shoot a 410 shotgun, a small model, good for hunting squirrels. "He asked me if he was making me nervous," Josh said, "because he wasn't very skilled with the gun, walking behind me, you know, that kind of stuff. That's when he said he had had a gun back when he was in New Mexico."

May told Josh that he had bought a pistol, and that he'd hit the range a little bit in New Mexico. There wasn't much more to it. The camping trip came to a close.

Then this past Friday came, and May went to have dinner with this grandma. He seemed happy, said his uncle, Wallace Freeman. He didn't talk about business. He spoke about the Bible, and he prayed. He said he and Wallace were going to cook his grandmother a nice Thanksgiving dinner.

Freeman said his nephew stayed the night. Then he went to stay with a pastor and her husband in Tallahassee. But May had never told Abigail and David Taunton that he wasn't coming back after dinner. A few days later, Abigail texted him. He wrote her back.

May said he was sorry that he hadn't told her where he was going. He told her he was having "spiritual warfare." And finally, he told her that he was all right.

The people who knew Myron May — when he was 13, when he was in college, when he was employed and when he was not — all say they understand now that their friend had a mental illness. Some of them, like Boakye, wonder if they should blame themselves. Others, like the Tauntons, say there was no way to know that such a frightful thing was coming.

But what is hardest to reconcile, they all say, is not the who of it, Myron May, or even the what, the horrible shooting.

It is the where.

Myron May had a Florida State frame on his license plate. He loved planning trips back there. And what is perhaps most disquieting of all, these people say, is that this man spent so much of his four years in Strozier Library.

He lived there.

They can not understand why — not now, they say, not ever, not even in the grips of mental illness — that he would let himself die there, like this.

That he would try to take lives there.

Times Staff Writers Steve Bousquet and Katie Mettler contributed to this report. Reach Lisa Gartner @lisagartner.