/What to Know About the Tallahassee Yoga Studio Attack

What to Know About the Tallahassee Yoga Studio Attack

Police investigators work the scene of a shooting at Hot Yoga Tallahassee on Friday, November 2.

Police investigators work the scene of a shooting at Hot Yoga Tallahassee on Friday, November 2.
Photo: Steve Cannon/AP

Early Friday evening, a gunman opened fire inside a yoga studio in Tallahasse, Florida, and shot six women, killing two, a doctor and a college student, before eventually turning his gun on himself. The shooter’s motive was not immediately clear, but subsequent reports on his online life revealed that the man held misogynistic and racist views, and may have subscribed to the anti-women “incel” ideology. It is thus possible the attack was motivated by far-right extremism, and if so, that would make it the fourth attack — and third deadly attack —perpetrated by a right-wing extremist in the U.S. in less than two weeks. Here’s what we know so far.

Just after 5:30 p.m. on Friday, 40-year-old Scott Paul Beierle entered the Hot Yoga Tallahassee studio carrying a black bag and posing as a customer. Without warning, he then pulled out a handgun and began firing on the dozen or so people inside the studio, where a yoga class had just begun. The gunman shot six women, killing two, and pistol whipped a man who was part of an effort to fight the shooter. “Patrons fought the assailant to prevent him from harming themselves and others,” according to a statement from Tallahassee police. Beierle shot one of the women six times.

Hot Yoga Tallahassee is located on the second floor of a two-story shopping mall in the city’s Glendale neighborhood. After the shooting began, many ran and sought shelter in neighboring businesses.

The first 9-1-1 call came in at 5:37 p.m. and police arrived three minutes later to find that the attack was over and that Beierle had committed suicide via a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Some 40 witnesses were later interviewed.

The police investigation is still underway, but as of Saturday night, authorities have not released any information about the gunman’s motive. The father of one of the women who was killed said that police told him the attack was random.

In a local refrain that now routinely follows most mass shootings in America, Tallahassee City Commissioner Scott Maddox commented that, “In my public service career, I have had to be on some bad [crime] scenes. This is the worst.”

Speaking with reporters on Saturday, Tallahassee Police Chief Michael DeLeo praised the efforts to confront the shooter during the attack. “The fact that we had people fight this attacker to help save other people and prevent him from doing further harm, really I think speaks to the true spirit of Tallahassee and what this community’s about.”

Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum, currently the state’s Democratic candidate for governor, returned to the city from the campaign trail on Saturday night after getting news of the shooting.

Two women were killed in the attack: Dr. Nancy Van Vessem, 61, and Maura Binkley, 21.

Dr. Nancy Van Vessem and Maura Binkley

Dr. Nancy Van Vessem (L) and Maura Binkley (R).
Photo: TBH/Facebook

The Tallahassee Democrat reports that Dr. Van Vessum was the well-respected chief medical director for Capital Health Plan, a local network of some 450 medical professionals, and a faculty member at nearby Florida State University, where she coordinated the clerkship rotations of third and fourth-year medical school students. Dr. Van Vessum also conducted research on providing care to people with multiple chronic diseases, and a nearby hospice center remembered her as a “champion for end-of-life care.” Capital Health Plan released a statement calling her “a guiding, visionary force in our daily work to serve the wellness and health care needs of thousands of families in this community.”

21-year-old Maura Binkley was a fourth-generation legacy student at FSU, where she was double-majoring in German and English, and hoped to get a job with Teach for America after graduating next May. She had grown up in Atlanta, and was a leader in her sorority at FSU, Delta Delta Delta, according to CNN and the Democrat. She also volunteered as a literacy teacher, and was apparently considering graduate school and a career in public service down the line. “She just wanted to help other people,” her dad, Jeff Binkley, told the Democrat. “That’s all she ever wanted to do.”

Maura also “hated gun violence so much,” according to her father. “I want people to know that she loved everyone. She believed in living her life for others,” he said. “One of her greatest wishes was simply for peace, that the senseless violence would stop.”

The four other women who were shot, a 34-year-old, two 21-year-olds, and a 19-year old, all survived their injuries. Two remained hospitalized in stable condition as of Saturday night. The other two women, as well as a 33-year-old man who was pistol whipped by the gunman, were all treated and released.

Scott Paul Beierle, 40, was an FSU graduate and military veteran with a history of harassing young women, which according to public records, included two arrests for groping. The shooter had been “the subject of prior calls for service in the Tallahassee area related to harassment of young women,” police said on Saturday, but did not offer any further details.

Scott Paul Beierle’s 2016 mugshot.

Scott Paul Beierle’s 2016 mugshot.
Photo: Handout/Leon County Sheriff’s Office

The shooter was arrested in 2012 for misdemeanor battery after he allegedly grabbed the butts of two women on the FSU campus. In 2014, Beierle was charged with trespassing at an FSU dining hall, but was later the beneficiary of some kind of pretrial intervention. He was then arrested for battery again in 2016 when he allegedly groped a sunbathing woman’s butt after she had refused his offer to rub sunscreen on it. Charges in all of these cases were subsequently dropped by prosecutors, though it’s not yet clear why.

Beierle served in the Army from 2008 to 2010, according to the Pentagon, and he was stationed for at least some of that time in Germany, according to Facebook posts he made during his service.

It is not clear if Beierle had a job, and if he didn’t, how he paid his bills. He called himself a “Urban Planner/Public Administrator” on his LinkedIn page, though he additionally said that he had been a “job seeker” since 2013. He also wrote that he had been a high school English teacher from 2005 to 2007.

He lived 200 miles away in Deltona, Florida, but was staying at a hotel in Tallahassee before the shooting. Police searched his car, hotel room, and home, but have not confirmed whether Beierle was a licensed gun owner or not.

Not much, officially. Tallahassee police have not publicly identified the gunman’s motive, nor have they pointed to any evidence, other than Beierle’s harassment history, which might indicate one. There is also, so far, no known link between the gunman and his victims, but police sought to search his electronic devices on Saturday.

Reporters, meanwhile, have uncovered videos and songs published by Beierle which reflect far-right views — including some which are identical to views which have allegedly motivated previous deadly attacks targeting women in the U.S. and Canada. After reviewing Beierle’s uploads, Buzzfeed News characterized the shooter as “a far-right extremist and self-proclaimed misogynist who railed against women, black people, and immigrants”:

On a YouTube channel in 2014, Beierle filmed several videos of himself offering extremely racist and misogynistic opinions, in which he called women “sluts” and “whores,” and lamented “the collective treachery” of girls he went to high school with.

“There are whores in — not only every city, not only every town, but every village,” he said, referring to women in interracial relationships, whom he said had betrayed “their blood.” …

In one video called “Plight of the Adolescent Male,” he named Elliot Rodger, who killed six people and injured 14 and is often seen as a hero for so-called incels, or those who consider themselves “involuntarily celibate.”

In April, a 25-year-old man who identified as an incel and expressed extreme anti-women views online used a rented van to kill ten people in Toronto. The attacker, Alek Minassian, praised Elliot Rodger and said that the “incel rebellion has already begun” in a Facebook post prior to his attack — likely referring to an uprising of violence by sexually frustrated, women-hating men in order to attack society and upset the sexual order, including the use of mass rape as a weapon.

Buzzfeed News also found a song Beierle uploaded to the net shortly before attacking the yoga studio:

Unlike the YouTube videos, his songs on Soundcloud were all uploaded in the last few months. Shortly before Friday’s shooting, Beierle uploaded one song called “Fuck ’Em All,” with the lyrics: “To hell with the boss that won’t get off my back / To hell with the girl I can’t get in the sack.”

Another song, called “Nobody’s Type,” featured him lamenting that women didn’t find him attractive. “I’m no athletic shark. I’m not a physical specimen. I don’t win the trophies and medals. Nobody stands in awe of me,” he sang.

In “American Wigger,” he sang that he would “blow off” the head of a woman he referred to using the c-word. The song “Locked in My Basement” featured an extremely disturbing tale of Beierle holding a woman prisoner in his basement using chains so he can rape her.

Other songs were entitled “Who Let the Fags Out?” and “Bring Your Fatwa.”

In one of the gunman’s YouTube videos, “he said that he resented having to subsidize as a taxpayer ‘the casual sex lives of slutty girls’ through the Affordable Care Act’s contraception provisions,” and “criticized ‘the invasion of Central American children’ in the U.S. that year and said the migrants seeking asylum should be deported on barges.”

The New York Times also took a look at Beierle’s videos, which were all uploaded to YouTube in 2014:

In the videos, Mr. Beierle pontificated from a dimly lit bedroom, with an unmade bed and a pile of cardboard boxes in the background. He lamented his inability to connect with other people — from Army comrades who he said would not travel with him while stationed in Europe to women who refused to go out with him.

He identified with “involuntary celibates” and told personal stories of rejection, naming multiple girls who he said had wronged him.

“Made one date, didn’t show up,” he said of one woman. “Made another date, didn’t show up. Kept making excuses. Ah, I could’ve ripped her head off.”

Beierle’s Facebook profile indicates that he was a member of two political groups, FSU College Republicans and We Are Conservatives. His only publicly visible political post was a picture of him standing next to a cardboard cutout of former president Ronald Reagan. He was not registered with any political party.

Again, it’s not clear if there is any evidence that directly links Beierle’s extremist views to his attack on the yoga studio, but it seems likely they played some role. It is also not clear why he specifically targeted the yoga studio.

If the yoga studio attack in Tallahassee was motivated by the gunman’s far-right views, it would be the fourth instance of right-wing domestic terrorism to strike the U.S. in less than two weeks.

Two weeks ago, also in Florida, an obsessed Trump supporter allegedly mailed pipe bombs to Democratic leaders, members of the media, and others that Trump has identified as his enemies. None of the bombs exploded, and the suspected mail-bomber was identified and arrested within a week.

That same week, on October 25, a white man attempted to enter the locked door of a black church in Louisville, Kentucky, then shot and killed two black men at a nearby Kroger supermarket. That shooting is being prosecuted as a hate crime.

Two days later, on October 27, a neo-Nazi attacked the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 mostly elderly people in the worst anti-Semitic attack in American history. The attacker, who yelled about wanting to kill Jews during the assault, was not a Trump supporter, but was obsessed with the caravan of Central American migrants which Trump and others on the right have been cynically promoting ad nauseam ahead of the midterm elections.

This post has been updated to reflect new reporting on the shooting and shooter.