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.
He had no apparent connection to Wytheville, but the picturesque community of 8,500 reminded him of the tourist town of Gatlinburg, Tenn., three hours away. So 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, mostly with the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, thought about his children and family and tried to stay calm.
"I tried to keep him calm and see what he wanted," Austin said. "I just wanted us to get out alive. There were times I didn't know whether that would happen."
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 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."