Fired reporter kills 2 journalists at former station on live TV

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Thursday, August 27, 2015
Fired reporter kills 2 former co-workers on live TV
A cameraman and reporter are dead after a gunman opened fire during a live report in Virginia.

MONETA, Va. -- Twenty-four hours after a disgruntled former employee opened fire during a live television report in Virginia, killing a TV reporter and photographer, new details about the victims and the suspect continue to emerge.

Investigators have identified the suspect, who is dead, as 41-year-old Vester Lee Flanagan II of Roanoke. He was a former news anchor who went by Bryce Williams on air. His victims were WDBJ-TV reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward -- both were killed.

Hours after the shooting, Virginia State Police located Flanagan's car and pursued him before his car crashed off the road. He was found suffering from a self-inflicted gunshot wound and was airlifted to a local hospital, where he later died.

"This gentleman was disturbed at the way things had turned out at some point in his life. Things were spiraling out of control," Franklin County Sheriff W.Q. "Bill" Overton Jr. said at a news conference.

"It has really stopped me in my tracks this morning. Like many viewers I was watching this morning's broadcast and couldn't understand really what was happening myself at that time," he continued.

A third victim, Vicki Gardner, underwent emergency surgery and is currently recovering in stable condition with non-life threatening injuries. Her husband, Tim, told WDBJ Thursday that she is doing better.

The attack was apparently well planned. Flanagan filmed the shooting and later shared the video on social media. It shows him approaching Parker and Ward, gun in hand, as they conducted an interview report about tourism at a shopping center during their morning broadcast. He points the gun at Parker and then at Ward, but he waits patiently to shoot until he knows that Parker is on camera, so she will be gunned down on air.

TV viewers heard about the first eight of 15 shots. They saw Parker scream and run and heard her crying "Oh my God!" as she fell. Ward fell, too, and the camera he had been holding on his shoulder captured a fleeting image of the suspect holding a handgun.

Flanagan had been previously fired by WDBJ.

Jeffrey A. Marks, the station's general manager, said when he was fired Flanagan had to be escorted by police out of the station. Marks went on to describe Flanagan as "an unhappy man," "difficult to work with," always "looking out for people to say things he could take offense to."

Vester Flanagan

"Eventually after many incidents of his anger coming to the fore, we dismissed him. He did not take that well," Marks explained.

President Barack Obama called the the attack on the news crew heartbreaking.

"It breaks my heart every time," he said. "What we know is that the number of people who die from gun-related incidents around this country dwarfs any deaths that happen through terrorism."

Parker grew up in Martinsville, Va., and attended Patrick Henry Community College and James Madison University. She previously worked at WCTI NewsChannel 12 in Jacksonville, North Carolina, near Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. She was an avid kayaker and attended community theater events in her spare time.

READ MORE: Remembering Adam Ward and Alison Parker

Ward, the cameraman, attended Salem High School and Virginia Tech, the station reported. He was 27.

Parker's father, Andy, released the following statement:

"Barbara, Drew, and I are numb, devastated and I find my grief unbearable. Alison was our bright, shining light and it was cruelly extinguished by yet another crazy person with a gun. She excelled at everything she did and was loved by everyone she touched. She loved us dearly, and we talked to her every single day. Not hearing her voice again crushes my soul. Our family can only take solace in the fact that although her life was brief, she was so happy with it. She lived it to the fullest and her spirit will always be with us."

Marks said that both victims were in relationships with other members of the station's staff. Parker reportedly brought in balloons Wednesday morning for Ward's fiancee, who was celebrating her last day on the job.

An anchor for the station, Chris Hurst, wrote on social media that he was Parker's boyfriend, posting a tribute to her.

"We have other members of the team with us today holding back tears, frankly," Marks said.

Marks also reflected on the dangers of live reporting.

"You send people into war zones, you send people into dangerous situations, riots, and you worry that they're going to get hurt. You send somebody to do a story on tourism, how can you ever expect something like this to happen?" he said.

The shooting occurred when the team was covering a story at Bridgewater Plaza, a recreational facility with shops, restaurants, a mini golf course and boat rentals, ABC News reports. The facility is off of Smith Mountain Lake in Moneta, about 25 miles southeast of Roanoke.

Two hours after the shooting ABC News received a 23-page fax from someone claiming to be Bryce Williams. In the document the writer says "MY NAME IS BRYCE WILLIAMS" and his legal name is Vester Lee Flanagan II." He writes what triggered Wednesday's carnage was his reaction to the racism of the Charleston church shooting:

"Why did I do it? I put down a deposit for a gun on 6/19/15. The Church shooting in Charleston happened on 6/17/15..."

"What sent me over the top was the church shooting. And my hollow point bullets have the victims' initials on them."

It is unclear whose initials he is referring to. He continues, "As for Dylann Roof? You (deleted)! You want a race war (deleted)? BRING IT THEN YOU WHITE ...(deleted)!!!" He said Jehovah spoke to him, telling him to act.

The fax was handed over to authorities and out of an abundance of caution the NYPD increased security outside TV stations in New York City, including WABC.

Back in Roanoke, WDBJ staffers' grief was evident during the newscasts that followed the shooting, but so was their restraint.

"This is a hard day for all of us here at WDBJ7. We are mourning Alison and Adam, but it is our job to find the facts," anchorwoman Melissa Ganoa said during the 5 p.m. EDT newscast, less than 12 hours after the shooting.

At a vigil for the victims Wednesday evening, people came to express their pain and sadness over what happened.

"I just feel God has a plan for Alison and Adam. He needed them to help him," said one person.

READ MORE: WBDJ morning crew copes on air Thursday

The Associated Press and ABC News contributed to this report.