August 26, 2015 06:20 PM

PEOPLE has spoken with two sources who confirm that Vester Flanagan, who allegedly killed two of his former colleagues on live television before turning the gun on himself hours later, exchanged sex for money in the mid-1990s.

PEOPLE sources say this took place between 1995 and 1997, when Flanagan was unemployed. Flanagan, born in 1973, would have been in his early twenties.

On Aug. 19, a week before his deadly rampage, Flanagan, under the username of @bryce_williams7, Tweeted to his 16 followers, “Hell yeah I’ve been a high paid ‘companion.’ You wish u could too!! Lol.” The Tweet was accompanied by four photos of Flanagan from his younger days, posing and flexing for the camera. (The account has since been taken down.)

An extended family member confirms to PEOPLE that Flanagan frequented several America Online chat rooms geared towards casual hookups.

“In his profile, he had a lot of dollar signs, and that was a sign to the people he was chatting with that he was willing to hook up for money,” says the family member. “He kept it a secret from his parents, but he did tell a few other family members in his generation who he thought might accept it. I won’t say he was proud of it, but he wasn’t ashamed, either.”

“This is a religious family,” adds the family member, noting that the Flanagan family were devout Jehovah’s Witnesses. “So obviously, he couldn’t tell everyone about it. It was a secret that only a few people knew.”

Flanagan kept most of the details to himself, only telling people the minimum about his past.

“He said he did what he had to do,” says childhood friend Shaun Barton, who called it a “dark period” for Flanagan. “But he had a lot of dark periods in his life.”

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