Florida yoga studio shooting spurs effort to curb violence

News4Jax learns gunman's hatred of women was reported to FBI before shooting

Jeff Binkley spoke Monday on what would have been his daughter's 22nd birthday..
Jeff Binkley spoke Monday on what would have been his daughter's 22nd birthday..

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Before a gunman shot and killed two women at a Tallahassee yoga studio in November, he had recorded online videos railing against women who had turned down his advances. Police said he also had a history of harassing women.

Four months after the shooting, the family of one the shooting victims, 21-year-old Florida State University student Maura Binkley, wants research to get to the root cause of what can lead people like Scott Paul Beierle, 40, to open fire and cause mass casualties.

To do so, Binkley’s family on Monday launched a nonprofit organization, Maura’s Voice, which will partner with Florida State University to conduct research about people who are “incels” -- shorthand for involuntary celibate -- and behavior that leads to violence against women, including violent stalking, said James Clark, dean of the FSU College of Social Work.

“The motive for the terrible crime that took place in this city on Nov. 2 was hate. Our motive in establishing Maura’s Voice is love,” said Jeff Binkley, Maura’s father and founder of Maura’s Voice.

The goal, Jeff Binkley said, will be to influence policy decisions to create a positive cultural change. That includes looking beyond politics and ideology when it comes to addressing policies geared toward addressing gun violence.

“We want to find some of the root causes that are going on in our country, that are really disturbing people enough to do the kinds of acts that happened on Nov. 2,” FSU President John Thrasher said. “I think we can help find that.”

Thrasher said the shooting at Hot Yoga Tallahassee marked one of the worst days of his presidency because it also took the life of Nancy Van Vessem, 61, a physician and faculty member at the university.

“Now, it is up to us to help the Binkley family to ensure that Maura’s voice -- a voice of peace, love and kindness -- will carry on,” Thrasher said.

The research will be funded by donations. In a year, preliminary findings will be used to make policy recommendations, something Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, seek to focus on.

“If we can start focusing on the issues that surround hate and violence, from a science-based perspective, it’s going to yield good policy from out state Capitol,” Galvano said.

Galvano, who led efforts to pass gun legislation and school-safety measures last year after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, will continue to prioritize school security during the legislative session that starts Tuesday.

Binkley said his daughter was in the Capitol last year advocating for gun-control legislation pushed by the Parkland students’ organization March For Our Lives.

“Too often policymakers make reactionary decisions without science-based research,” Montford said. “This collaboration will produce some of the most beneficial and effective policies as we find solutions to end violence in our culture.”

'History of sexual misconduct ... goes back to grade school'

Long before Beierle killed Binkley and FSU professor Dr. Nancy Van Vessem and wounded five others before killing himself, there were warning signs.

Combing through the 262-pages police report completed a few weeks ago, there are references to how many times he showed his hatred of women. He wrote about murder, rape and torture in his journals and online. 

While in the Army, Beierle was discharged for inappropriate contact with women. After the 40-year-old gunman received two master’s degrees from FSU, he was teacher in Volusia County until he was fired for inappropriately touching a student.

"Mr. Beierle had a history of sexual misconduct against women, including students, that goes back to his time in grade school," Tallahassee Chief Michael DeLeo said.

A woman reported his behavior to the FBI three months before the shooting but federal agents took no action.

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