As a post office standoff wore on, the people Warren "Gator" Taylor is accused of holding hostage say he slowly opened up to them.
He told them he had been in the Marines for 20 years, proud to talk about his military experiences. He said his life had recently headed south, that his son had been killed in Afghanistan and that his truck was being repossessed. He railed against the federal government.
"He was really down on the government," said Jimmy Oliver, 41, one of three hostages, who spoke with The Associated Press Thursday, a day after the ordeal. "About the government taking over the right to bear arms ... he was angry at the government overtaxing us."
Whether Taylor served those decades in the Marines is uncertain, with military officials not immediately able to locate any records. The Associated Press also could not corroborate whether his son was killed.
What is certain is that Taylor has a criminal record that includes convictions in Manatee County, Fla., in 1994 on two counts of lewd and lascivious behavior with a child under 16 and a count of attempted second-degree murder. The 53-year-old is a registered as a sex offender in Florida and in Sullivan County, Tenn., where he lives.
On Thursday, Taylor was arraigned on kidnapping and other federal charges in the standoff. The hostages were released unharmed after about eight hours and Taylor surrendered without incident.
He apologized during the hearing in U.S. District Court in Roanoke.
"I'm sorry I got everybody out on Christmas," said Taylor, 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., said she was his girlfriend and they spent a lot of time talking about the Bible and religion.
"This is totally out of character for the person I know," said the woman, who identified herself as Barbara but would not give her last name. She said they met when he moved to the trailer park eight months ago.
Taylor was released in December 1998 from a Florida prison after serving four years for shooting his ex-wife. The St. Petersburg Times reported in 1993 that Taylor shot Karen Taylor three times with a handgun when she was walking through a parking lot on her way to work.
At the time, Taylor was wanted on the lewd and lascivious behavior charges from a 1991 case involving a 13-year-old.
More than a decade later, Taylor again is behind bars after the post office attack that U.S Postal Inspector J. David McKinney said he had planned for months or years.
Taylor had no apparent connection to picturesque Wytheville, a town of 8,500 in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Officials say he pulled off the interstate to buy gas and food and decided the post office would be the place to carry out his plans.
Oliver, a divorced father of two, was at the post office to mail Christmas gifts to his teenage son when he noticed a heavyset man using his wheelchair like a walker to brace himself.
The man stuck one of his four guns in Oliver's face and told him to get on the floor, where he laid next to an older man while the gunman grabbed Margie Austin, a postal supervisor.
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 in his wheelchair.
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.
Austin did the same, even as the gunman grabbed her and used her as a human shield as he fired at police outside.
"I just wanted us to get out alive," Austin said. "There were times I didn't know whether that would happen."
Associated Press writers Tom Breen in Roanoke and Bristol, Tenn.; Michael Felberbaum in Richmond; and Tim Huber in Charleston, W.Va., contributed to this report.