DESTIN, Fla. – When Dannie Baker's neighbors awoke to gunfire and sirens, many suspected instantly he was involved — his sometimes racist, often religious ramblings had taken a more ominous tone lately.
Authorities say Baker grabbed a rifle, walked across a parking lot and began firing through the window into a town home where about 20 young people, many of them part of a cultural exchange program, were socializing Feb. 25.
When the shooting ended, Chilean students Racine Balbontin-Aragondona, 22, and Nicolas Pablo Corp Torres, 23, were dead and three others were wounded. Baker was arrested after a standoff with authorities at his home and is charged with capital murder.
Baker's behavior leading up to the slayings raised some alarms.
He sent e-mails to local Republican officials threatening to "exacute" Washington officials.
"Are you ready for the revolution?" neighbor Crystal Lynn said he asked her.
The day of the shootings, he asked neighbor Jim Turner if he "had ever renounced God," Turner said.
"He said a lot of people had and that they needed to be murdered," Turner said.
Now there are questions about whether Baker's statements should have been seen as warnings rather than as the meaningless ravings of a deranged man.
Buddy Gissendanner, Baker's public defender, said he would likely enter a written not guilty plea at an April 21 hearing. Gissendanner is considering all defense strategies, including Baker's mental condition, which he will not discuss.
Baker, 60, wears a ragged beard and long, unkempt hair. He has long been considered strange by neighbors in this Panhandle beach town, who called him "The Bird Man" because he walked around with a macaw on his shoulder and kept other exotic birds in his home.
Liz Rushing moved away from the complex where Baker lived several years ago partly because she didn't want her family living near him. Rushing said she filed a sheriff's report after she found Baker looking into her home's windows.
"Females couldn't go to the pool without him coming around," she said.
She said Baker's rants about religion and politics didn't make sense, but he appeared more mentally disturbed than motivated by hate.
"He just acted like someone who should have been in a hospital, not out with the general public," she said.
Under a Florida law, coincidentally called the Baker Act, people can be involuntarily hospitalized, at least temporarily, if they are considered serious threats to themselves or others. It's a complicated process though, even if people show signs of being disturbed, said Richard Sharpstein, a longtime Miami defense attorney.
"For the police to take that action, there usually has to be more disorderly conduct or an assault," he said. "There are a lot of strange people — and strange people with weapons — that are just lurking out there in neighborhoods and unfortunately there's not a lot police can do about it."
Last summer, Walton County Republican officials forwarded to the sheriff's office several threatening e-mails Baker sent them, riddled with misspellings and mostly focused on illegal immigrants.
In an Aug. 6 e-mail, Baker wrote: "The Washington D.C. Dictators have already confessed to rigging elections in our States for their recruiting dictators to overthrow us with foreign illegals here, and have allowed them to kill and run for office in the States to extend their influence into our States."
In another e-mail, Baker claimed there is a plot to "give our homeland to foriegn states and their representatives here in America. Lets exacute them and reinstate a legal government that will do something for us."
Walton GOP head Michael Tim Norris said Baker volunteered during George W. Bush's presidential campaigns in 2000 and 2004. "He was a hard little worker. He showed up when you needed him to show up," he said.
Baker "just made people feel uncomfortable" when he returned this fall, however, and officials asked him to stop volunteering, Norris said.
"He was an eccentric kind of guy. I knew he was single and lonely," Norris said.
Sheriff Mike Adkinson Jr. did not return phone calls from The Associated Press about his department's response to Baker's e-mails and other complaints filed against him through the years for trespassing, harassment and other problems.
Gissendanner said he is investigating Baker's background but doesn't know much about him yet. It's unclear how Baker made a living, but a business, Perfect Hearts Ministry Inc., is registered at his home. He also filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in 2002.
The bodies of the slain Chileans have been returned home, where the shooting was national news. The parents of the wounded were brought to Florida to care for their children.
Monica Suarez, whose 27-year-old son Sebastian Arizaga was wounded in the hand and shoulder, said she had spoken to the parents of the dead students.
"They're very bad. Bad, bad, bad. There was nothing that would console Racine's mother. Their pain is different than mine. They lost their loved ones," she said. "One never expects your son to leave on something so beautiful (cultural exchange) and end up dead. It's something you don't understand."