The man known as Bryce Williams, born Vester Flanagan II, who was responsible for yesterday's shooting of two Virginia journalists, grew up in Oakland, as we noted yesterday. And now CBS 5 tracked down a longtime neighbor and childhood friend of Flanagan's, Virgil Barker, who still lives in the same house he grew up in and Flanagan's sister and her children still live in their family's house across the street.
It turns out that the Flanagans are Jehovah's Witnesses, and Vester may have been a bit of a black sheep, with a few longtime friends coming forward with a few salacious details about his past.
In the raw video below Barker explains that his family had been in the neighborhood since 1968, and the Flanagans moved in 1971. He is a few years older than Flanagan, but says, "I grew up with him we barbecued together... I was at his mom's funeral."
Barker also says he's "devasted," and says, "He was a very personable man, very nice and respectful. I never saw this coming... I'll never believe it, but it happened."
After seeing the reports on television Tuesday, Barker says he said to himself, "Vester? Little Vester?"
Barker says that he spoke to Flanagan's sister and niece just the day before, but now he's at a loss for what he'll say the next time he sees her come home across the street. "She’s dealing the tragedy of other people getting shot and her brother shooting himself. His niece, his nephews... what am I going to tell them?"
People Magazine spoke to a different childhood friend who may have known Flanagan better, Shaun Barton, who spoke of Flanagan's past as a male escort who found clients via AOL chat rooms in the mid-1990s. Flanagan himself appears to have bragged about this period in his life, which Barton says was a "dark period," just a week before the shooting, on Twitter (see below). On August 19, Flanagan posted pictures of himself from this period, when he was living in the Bay Area after getting a broadcast journalism degree from SF State, between 1995 and 1997, saying, "Hell yeah I've been a high paid 'companion.' You wish u could too!! Lol." Of course at the time, Flanagan only had 16 followers for his now suspended Twitter account.
An extended family member confirmed to People that Flanagan had escorted to make extra money, saying, "I won't say he was proud of it, but he wasn't ashamed, either."