Man Angry At IRS Crashes Plane Into Building
(Soundbite of music)
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Authorities didn't know at first what to make of the small plane that slammed into an office park in Austin, Texas yesterday. After hours of searching through the wreckage and investigating the background of the pilot, officials called it an isolated incident by a suicidal man with a grudge against the IRS.
The body of the pilot and one other person were found in the building's wreckage and two more people are in critical condition. NPR's John Burnett reports from Austin.
JOHN BURNETT: Information trickled out all day Thursday about Joseph Stack, the 53-year-old software engineer and part-time country rock pianist whose rage against the powers that be ended in a violent conflagration televised around the world.
His motives are contained in a rambling, obscenity-laced 3,000 word manifesto written on the Web site for his failed computer software company. He blames the federal tax code, CPAs, big government in general, and the IRS in particular for ruining him financially and forcing him to liquidate his life savings.
Complaining of a storm raging in my head, Stack writes: Desperate times call for desperate measures and violence is the only answer. IRS officials would not say whether Stack had a specific conflict with the nearly 200 IRS employees that he targeted inside the Echelon office building in northwest Austin.
Ms. LISA ALEXANDER (Internal Revenue Service): A bunch of vibrations. I thought it was an earthquake. And then when we went out into the hallway to check on it, as soon as we opened the door, just a bunch of smoke and heat came into our room. We didn't know what was going on.
BURNETT: IRS revenue officer Lisa Alexander says she and five coworkers escaped the burning building when a window installation truck, parked providentially below, extended its ladder up to the second floor and allowed them to descend to safety.
The shattered black glass building smoldered all afternoon with blinds fluttering out of gaping windows as onlookers lined the highway below.
Officials believe it was not the only fire that Joseph Stack started yesterday. They say at around 9:00 a.m. he torched his own house in a tree-lined middle class neighborhood about five miles away. Twenty-nine-year-old Shannon Houston lives across the street.
Ms. SHANNON HOUSTON: I came out. It actually woke me up then. I heard the fire trucks. And I came out and I seen the fire on the second floor windows. Then a little while later I saw a younger girl running into my neighbor's house crying hysterically. And an older woman came running in after her.
BURNETT: That's presumably Stack's wife, fellow pianist Cheryl, and her daughter, whose age is estimated at 12. Other neighbors told local media that Stack's anger boiled over Wednesday night and his wife and stepdaughter stayed at a local hotel to get away from him. When they returned Thursday morning, they found their house and all their belongings inside in flames.
Joseph Stack was gone. He had reportedly driven to Georgetown Municipal Airport north of Austin, where he climbed into the white Piper Cherokee registered in his name, flew back south through cloudless blue skies, banked sharply to the right, and crashed into the second and third floors of the building.
His former wife, Ginger Stack, told the Los Angeles Times from her home near Los Angeles, quote: "He was a good man. Frustrated with the IRS, yes, but a good man. I'm in shock right now."
Though two F16s were briefly scrambled at Ellington Field in Houston, federal officials quickly stood down when they realized this incident did not appear to be part of a larger plot. Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo looked relieved when he spoke to reporters yesterday afternoon.
Chief ART ACEVEDO (Austin Police Department): We're very lucky. We've been blessed that things could've been a lot worse.
BURNETT: Fire rescue teams have thoroughly searched the building and reported that everyone is accounted for.
John Burnett, NPR News, Austin.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.