Ronald Gay is a 53-year-old drifter and Vietnam War veteran being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder. He described Vietnam as a bloody confusion of fighting and picking up his buddies' body parts.
Ronald Gay didn't like his last name.
William Gay, the murder's brother, said that his brother was frequently teased about his name when he was in the Marine Corps. "When I went to school, gay just meant 'happy'," he said. Still, William Gay said his brother is not homophobic. He said his brother was not getting his medication from the local Veterans Administration hospital -- "When they did not give him his medication, ... they were creating a time bomb," William Gay said.
Gay has been married five times and some of his children have changed their last name to avoid jokes about it.
Gay has a history of drinking and violence but did not have a criminal record in Virginia. He had been living in Roanoke for about a year, but identification he gave police indicated Florida as his residence.
Gay was often drinking Canadian whiskey getting drunk and he always had a gun, Laura Ramsey, one of his ex-wives, said. Once, she came home to find Gay with a gun to his head while their 6-month-old son sat on the floor. Ramsey said on one drunken Christmas, Gay started masturbating in front of her mother.
Gay left Laura Ramsey and their toddler son in 1998, but that he reappeared on Father's Day 2000, assaulting her and her new husband. She took out a restraining order against him. In June, a Florida judge ordered him to undergo mental evaluation and give up any guns in his possession.
He often talked about building a house in Virginia and settling down here, Ramsey said.
In between his violent spats and drunken stupors, he complained his name was supposed to mean "happy," not "homosexual," according to Laura Ramsey. "It doesn't surprise me that he killed somebody," Ramsey said.
Ramsey said Gay, 53, felt a lifelong torment over his name, but didn't openly hate homosexuals. Friday night would suggest something different. Gay shooted seven people in a Roanoke gay bar Friday night, killing one.
Gay carried an identification card with an address in Citrus Springs, Fla., but he went to Virginia to get treated. He had no fixed address but had been in Roanoke for about a year, police said. He frequented Sharon's Graffiti and Tony's Place, both on Salem Avenue a few blocks from the site of the shooting. He never said much and kept to himself, regulars said. He had been camping at Roanoke Mountain Campground. He told detectives he had been in Roanoke in the mid-1980s, and remembered a club in Southwest Roanoke that catered to homosexuals.
Residents of the Jefferson Motor Lodge in Roanoke, where Gay checked in Friday afternoon, said his behavior was, in retrospect, unusual. Resident Virgil Glover said that Gay seemed "an awful friendly guy."
Shortly after he checked into the hotel, he extended his arm with a Marine Corps tattoo to Virgil Glover and offered him a cigarette. Later, it was bourbon he offered, then money, his glasses and his room key.
At one point, Gay was sitting on the balcony watching a group of Christian singers in Elmwood Park. He saw two police officers ride by on appaloosa horses. Glover said that Gay, with a Bible beside him, said, "Death rides a pale horse."
Glover thought Gay was talking about the Bible. "I thought he had just read it in Revelations," Glover said. "Who would have thought the man had a gun in the room right there."
Glover said Gay didn't seem like a killer, but now Glover believes it was not a random comment. He spoke of death, religion, violence and of never coming back. He was like a man preparing for his suicide.
"I think he was indicating something. I think he believed he was the justice, prosecutor and executioner," he said.
"He said, if he wasn't back by morning, turn on the 8 o'clock news -- that's all he said," before he left the hotel Friday night, Glover said.
Gay gave $2 to the 2-year-old granddaughter of Virgil Glover's friend Kay Lawrence, then later bought two large pizzas for Glover, Lawrence and five of her relatives.
Gay said he bought the pizzas because he wouldn't see them anymore, according to Tanya Crookshank, another of Lawrence's granddaughters.
When Lawrence's grandson carried a table up to Gay's balcony, Gay gave him $5. Then he gave Crookshank a portable radio, and Lawrence a country-western tape called "Crying in the Chapel" to "listen to when you are sad," Lawrence said Gay told her.
He even offered one of Lawrence's children a shirt to wear when he thought she was cold. Gay was wearing that same shirt when he was arrested.
He showered about 9:30 p.m., then gave Glover his room key. He reeked of bourbon, Glover said.
"You got my key," Lawrence remembered Gay saying. "I may not be back. If not you can have my stuff in the room."
According to Glover, Gay left the lodge around 10 p.m., saying he was going to grab a hamburger and watch a fireworks display.
Three hours later, he was arrested on a first-degree murder charge.
Saturday night, Gay was in Roanoke, alone, in a city jail cell.