AUSTIN, Texas — The family of a longtime Internal Revenue Service employee killed when a pilot harboring an anti-IRS grudge flew his plane into his office remembered the Vietnam veteran Saturday as a devoted family man who likely would have tried to save his co-workers from the burning building before escaping himself.
"He was full of life. Probably the best teacher I had in my life," Ken Hunter said of his father, 68-year-old Vernon Hunter. The elder Hunter had been missing and presumed dead since Thursday, when software engineer Andrew Joseph Stack III slammed his plane into the Austin building where Hunter worked as a manager for the IRS.
The crash caused a large fireball that destroyed much of the hulking glass building where Hunter's wife, Valerie, also worked as an IRS employee. She was not wounded.
Hunter was the only person besides Stack to die in the attack, and authorities officially notified the family they had identified his remains on Saturday, said Larry McDonald, a family friend and deacon at their church.
Stack, 53, apparently targeted the lower floors of the building that houses IRS offices after lashing out at the agency in a ranting manifesto posted on a Web site shortly before Thursday's attack. In the note, Stack claimed the government and its tax code robbed him of his savings and ruined his career.
Standing outside Hunter's house in the Austin suburb of Cedar Park, Ken Hunter said he wanted to tell people about his father after hearing about Stack's life and his anti-tax crusade. He was alarmed by comments from Stack's friends who said he was a good person and Internet postings calling the pilot a hero.
"People say (Stack) is a patriot. What's he a patriot for? He hasn't served the country. My dad did two tours of Vietnam and this guy is going to be a patriot and no one is going to say that about my dad? That's what got me started talking. I couldn't stand it anymore," Ken Hunter said.
In the note, Stack wrote that he realized "violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer." He apparently set fire to his home before taking off Thursday from an airport 30 miles north of the Texas capital. His current wife and her daughter were not at home at the time.
Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said his wife, Sheryl Stack, and her daughter had left the couple's home Wednesday night and stayed at a hotel but would not elaborate. Acevedo said police had no reports of domestic violence at the home.
Stack's daughter from his first marriage, Samantha Dawn Bell, said the Web manifesto didn't sound like the father she knew.
"It's not him. The letter itself sounds like it's coming from a different person," she said in an interview from her home in Norway.
Stack also lashed out at his Austin-based accountant Bill Ross in the anti-IRS screed. In a statement, Ross said Stack hired him for tax help in 2008 but the pilot had failed to give him all his financial information, resulting in an IRS audit.
Ross said when Stack ignored the audit and his advice, he ended the business relationship and had not been in touch with him since October.
No one answered the door at Ross' house Saturday. But his spokesman said the accountant was fine. "Certainly nobody wants their name in a rambling manifesto of someone who ran his plane into a building," said Chad Wilbanks, a former executive director of the Texas Republican Party.
Back at the Hunter home, Ken Hunter said he assumed the worst after not hearing from his father within an hour after the crash.
"I called dad about 20 times. I never got an answer," said the younger Hunter, who lives in San Antonio. "I could tell."
Vernon Hunter grew up in Orangeburg, S.C. before joining the Army after high school in 1959 and served about 20 years. Though he liked his job at the IRS, he had just begun to hint at retirement and was talking about going back to school to get a degree teaching children with learning disabilities.
Hunter and his wife, Valerie, each had three children before they were married and melded the large family together, Ken Hunter said. He also loved the Washington Redskins football team and eating good Texas barbecue.