On Nov. 2, 2018, 2 women were killed by a shooter at a yoga studio in Tallahassee. Others escaped when one person took action.
Nate Chute, USA Today Network
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The gunman who opened fire inside a Florida yoga studio acted alone, planned the rampage for months and had a history of sexual misconduct toward women and girls dating back to his days in grade school.
Tallahassee Police Chief Michael DeLeo on Tuesday released new details in the Nov. 2 shooting inside the Hot Yoga Tallahassee studio that left two women dead and five other people injured. The department also released its final investigative reports, totaling 262 pages.
He said the 40-year-old gunman, Scott Beierle, openly expressed his hatred of women and wrote about rape, torture and murder in his journals.
But DeLeo said no evidence was found that could explain why the gunman picked out the cozy, second-floor studio in MIdtown. He had no connection to any of the victims and didn’t appear to single any of them out in his attack. His misanthropic, woman-hating online ravings were brought to the attention of the FBI three months before but were not considered an actionable threat.
“Scott Beierle was a disturbed individual who harbored hatred towards women,” DeLeo said. “Although there was no specific target at the yoga studio on the night of Nov. 2, (his) lifetime of misogynistic attitudes caused him to attack a familiar community where he had been arrested several times for his previous violent action towards women.”
Tallahassee Police Chief Michael DeLeo provides an update on the November Hot Yoga studio shooting investigation.
Tori Schneider, Tallahassee Democrat
Inside the studio
Two women were killed in the shooting: Maura Binkley, a 21-year-old student at Florida State University who dreamed of working with Teach for America, and Nancy Van Vessem, an internist and chief medical officer for Capital Health Plan who worked to keep insurance affordable for state workers.
DeLeo detailed how the shooter blended in as a customer the night of the shooting. He arrived at 5:17 p.m. and paid $12 to take the 5:30 p.m. class. He paced outside on the balcony alone until the class began.
“He made very little conversation for the most part,” DeLeo said. “Other than his violent act, he had very little interaction with anybody inside the class.”
He entered the studio at 5:35 p.m. The instructor gave instructions and almost immediately he pulled ear muffs from his bag, put them on, then pulled out a handgun.
He shot Binkley and Van Vessem first, in the back, “never giving the opportunity to confront their attacker or flee,” DeLeo said.
The gunman continued shooting other people in the studio. One of the patrons, Joshua Quick, confronted him with a vacuum cleaner and struggled with him. The gunman’s weapon malfunctioned, allowing people to escape.
One injured victim, who stayed on the floor pretending to be dead, heard the gunman say something unintelligible before a single gunshot rang out. The victim looked over and saw the gunman lying on top of one of the dead.
DeLeo said the massacre “would have been much worse than it was.” The gunman was carrying more than 100 rounds of ammunition.
“So, we’re thankful for the actions of the victim who intervened and fought back, giving people the opportunity to escape,” he said. “It’s all hypothetical, but that may have caused (the shooter) to panic and take his own life instead of continuing on attacking other people.”
Warning to FBI was deemed ‘non-actionable’
DeLeo said the gunman, who died of a self-inflicted gunshot, had no intention of returning alive. He left both his room keys back at the Extended Stay motel where he stayed for two nights.
DeLeo said investigators interviewed dozens of witnesses, pored through thousands of pages of documents, including the shooter’s journals and electronic files, and a mountain of evidence he left in his car and hotel room. He enlisted in the Army in 2008 but was honorably discharged in 2010 for “unacceptable conduct” involving inappropriate contact with women.
He lived in Tallahassee and attended Florida State, where he earned two master’s degrees in 2013 and had a history of arrests for groping women around campus. He was fired as a substitute teacher in Leon County in 2015 for surfing porn on the job.
He moved to Deltona in September 2016, a couple of months after his last arrest for battery in Tallahassee. He taught at Volusia County schools, but was fired in June 2018 for inappropriately touching a female student.
A month later, on July 23, he bought the 9mm Glock handgun he used in the yoga studio shooting from a pawn shop in Orange City, not far from where he was living in Deltona. Less than a week later he practiced with his new firearm at the Tallahassee Indoor Shooting Range, purchasing 30 minutes of range time.
The gunman was an amateur musician and posted music to his website with violent lyrics about murder and stalking. He sent a link to the website to a childhood friend in early August 2018. On Aug. 5, the friend’s wife called the FBI to tip them off about the website.
“The tips were determined to be ‘non actionable’ by the FBI,” DeLeo said.
The gunman had a penchant for watching yoga-related porn, investigators found after searching his internet history. He first searched online for “Tallahassee Hot Yoga” in May 2016. More than two years later, in Auggust 2018, he called the studio, but staff could not recollect details from the conversation. A month before the shooting, he viewed Hot Yoga Tallahassee’s schedule on its website.
He checked into his room at the Suburban Extended Stay on Oct. 31, the same day he purchased ear muffs to drown out loud noise and a yoga mat from a Walmart in Orange City.
He left the hotel for 37 minutes the day before the shooting. He didn’t leave again until 42 minutes before he entered the Hot Yoga studio where he was spotted on surveillance video wearing a fanny pack and carrying a black bag.
Legacies of victims will live on
TPD officials released their findings to victims and their families Monday and Tuesday. Some attended the briefing.
Maura Binkley’s father Jeff Binkley said TPD informed him the report would be released this week and discussed a verbal summary with him. He said he appreciated the “caring” manner the department communicated with him.
“I have a lot of confidence in TPD,” he said.
Capital Health Plan released a statement:
“Just as their families continue to mourn, words cannot begin to express the profound loss that we all continue to feel about the senseless murder of Dr. Nancy Van Vessem and Maura Binkley. The lives of these two fine women were cut short in a violent act of cowardice. We will remember Dr. Nancy Van Vessem for the profound impact she made on our community, in the lives and health of so many, and as a dearly loved and respected leader of the CHP family. Her legacy will live on.”
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