In the minutes before her husband rammed his small airplane into an office building, Sheryl Stack turned onto her street after spending the night at a hotel to see a huge black cloud rising from her house.
Joseph Stack had been taunting her about his plan "to vanish," she would later tell investigators. She first feared that he had killed himself inside.
"I saw the smoke billowing and said, 'Oh, my god, he's burned the house down,'\u2009" Sheryl Stack told them. "He had told me his life was over — that he was walking away and that I would never see him again."
As she arrived at her burning home, Joseph Stack was not dead — yet. He was at the Georgetown airport hangar he rented for $300 a month, loading a 55-gallon drum with extra gasoline onto his plane and leaving behind a second barrel covered with threats scribbled on Post-it notes and addressed to the Internal Revenue Service.
Those and other details are among new revelations in nearly 1,000 pages of documents in the FBI's Stack case file — all obtained by the American-Statesman last week through the Freedom of Information Act.
The file revealed, for the first time, that the plane he crashed into a building that housed Internal Revenue Service offices had been a source of conflict with the government about whether he could consider it a taxable business expense.
The documents referred to an audio interview Austin fire officials conducted with Sheryl Stack, and the newspaper separately sought copies of that tape, which provides the first glimpse into her reactions in the immediate aftermath. She has not publicly discussed the details of what happened and did not return calls seeking comment last week.
After torching his home in February 2010, Stack flew his single-engine plane into the Northwest Austin office building, killing himself and a federal worker and seriously injuring several others.
The crash sent a fireball through much of the Echelon I building and initially raised concerns from Austin to the White House about a possible act of terrorism.
Recently made available for public release, the file provides the most comprehensive information so far about Stack's finances, which he blamed for his attack; his attitude toward government; and what he did that day.
It includes interviews with more than a dozen witnesses who recounted the horror of seeing Stack's plane hurtling at full throttle into the building and statements from family members and friends whose opinions varied on the outward signs of his distress.
The names of people FBI agents interviewed are redacted from the file.
The records also add detail to the death of IRS employee Vernon Hunter, who, according to the documents, was on the phone with a fellow federal worker in Waco when Stack's plane plowed into his office.
According to that worker, they were talking about new employee training when silence — and then "a very loud popping sound" — interrupted them and the phone went dead, an agent wrote.
Documents also show that in the days after the attack, the FBI questioned a Lago Vista man who made anti-government remarks in an online chat room hours before the crash. A man in Alaska alerted the FBI about the comments after learning about the Austin attack. The commenter told agents during interviews at his home that "it was unfortunate that an innocent person had to die, but it was necessary."
Federal agents later deemed that the man, who was not identified, did not know Stack and that Stack acted alone.
"It is anticipated that no federal indictments are forthcoming," the file concluded.
Distrust of government
Records show that FBI agents from across the nation were drawn into the case, and through nine months of interviews after the Feb. 18, 2010, attack, they created a portrait of Stack: a 53-year-old software engineer at DAC International, an avionics sales and distribution company in North Austin, who lived in Arizona and California after college and moved to Austin sometime after 2001.
He had been married for about 18 months to Sheryl, who was pursuing a doctorate in music from the University of Texas and has a young daughter in Austin.
Among those who knew him even casually, Stack was open about his distrust of government and anger at the IRS. He never advocated violence, they said.
Several told investigators that Stack frequently complained about having to release information that he considered private to employers and others.