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A TV news reporter and photographer were shot dead on live TV on Wednesday morning.
Reporter Alison Parker, 24, and photographer Adam Ward, 27, were both killed when a former employee at their Roanoke, Virginia CBS affiliate, opened fire during a live broadcast. In addition, the woman Parker was interviewing, Vicki Gardner of the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce, was also injured in the shooting.
The gunman Vester Lee Flanagan II, 41, went by the name of Bryce Williams when he worked at the station. After being pursued by various law-enforcement agencies, Flanagan shot himself and was taken to a Northern Virginia hospital in very critical condition. He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at roughly 1:30 p.m. ET at a Northern Virginia hospital, Franklin County Sheriff W.Q. “Bill” Overton Jr. said at a news conference that began a little less than an hour later.
The shooting happened around 6:45 a.m. ET during WDBJ’s live broadcast from the Bridgewater Plaza shopping center. Video circulating online shows Parker interviewing a woman when suddenly several shots are fired, Parker screams and the camera tilts to the side before the broadcast shifts back to a shocked anchor in the studio. The broadcast briefly showed a man who appeared to be holding a gun, with CNN and other news outlets circulating that image in hopes that it helped police in their search for the shooter.
A Twitter account claiming to be Flanagan’s was posting about the shooting on Wednesday morning before Twitter quickly suspended the account.
Gardner is in stable condition after undergoing surgery, according to a statement by Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital on its Facebook page.
The hospital statement also says that hospital staff had gotten to know the two journalists killed through many live reports from the hospital’s facilities. It says the two were more than just journalists — “they were good friends who will be missed.”
At a Wednesday afternoon press conference, Overton detailed that Flanagan fled the scene of the shooting before law-enforcement officials arrived. During the subsequent search, which involved multiple law-enforcement agencies, Flanagan’s car was spotted at Roanoke Regional Airport. He left the airport in a different car he rented at the beginning of the month. Virginia state police located the new car on I-66, followed him and tried to get him to stop but Flanagan sped away, Virginia State Police Sgt. Rick Garletts said at the press conference. The car then ran off the road and onto the median. When one of the troopers pursuing Flanagan approached the vehicle, she discovered that he was suffering from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Flanagan was flown from the scene to NoVa Fairfax hospital, where he died, Garletts said.
Overton said he wasn’t sure of Flanagan’s motive for the shooting and wouldn’t comment as to whether there was a racial component to the shooting.
“It’s obvious that this gentleman was disturbed in some way of how things had transpired at this point in his life,” Overton said. “It would appear things were spiraling out of control.”
Overton added: “We still have a lengthy investigation to conduct. That’s our focus as we move forward.”
He also expressed his condolences to WDBJ7. “We know that this has been a very difficult situation to manage professionally and personally, and we sincerely appreciate their cooperation and assistance with the ongoing investigation and our search efforts,” he said.
Earlier Wednesday, ABC News received a 23-page document by fax from someone claiming to be Bryce Williams, which the news organization turned over to law enforcement.
Although ABC News initially declined to reveal what was in the fax, a story posted on their website Wednesday afternoon explained that the document, purportedly from Williams/Flanagan, details several reasons for today’s incident, explaining that it was a reaction to the racial conflict behind 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,” the document allegedly written by Flanagan states. “What sent me over the top was the church shooting. And my hollow point bullets have the victims’ initials on them.”
The document continues, “As for Dylann Roof? You (deleted)! You want a race war (deleted)? BRING IT THEN YOU WHITE …(deleted)!!!”
The writer adds that Jehovah spoke to him and told him to act.
“The church shooting was the tipping point … but my anger has been building steadily,” the document states. “I’ve been a human powder keg for a while … just waiting to go BOOM!!!!”
The writer also expresses his support for the Columbine High School killers and the Virginia Tech killer Seung-Hui Cho.
A man claiming to be Williams called ABC News over the last few weeks, the news organization said Wednesday, explaining that the caller wanted to pitch an unspecified story and fax information about it.
On Wednesday morning, the faxed document was in the machine, timestamped 8:26 a.m. Shortly after 10 a.m. the man called again, identified himself as Williams/Flanagan and stated that he shot two people on Wednesday morning, claiming the authorities were “after me” and “all over the place” before hanging up.
The often-rambling document, titled a “Suicide Note for Friends and Family,” purportedly from Flanagan details a number of grievances, including suffering racial discrimination, sexual harassment and bullying at work. He said he had been attacked by black men and white women and was attacked for being a gay, black man.
WDBJ president and general manager Jeffrey A. Marks told CNN that Ward’s fiancee, a producer, was in the control room when the shooting occurred so she saw it happen. Today was Ward’s fiancee’s last day as she was set to move on to a Charlotte station, with Ward set to join her, Marks said.
The NYPD has increased security at New York TV stations in light of the incident.
“Out of an abundance of caution the NYPD’s Counterterrorism Bureau, Critical Response Vehicles and Hercules Teams have been deployed to television news outlets in New York City,” NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Counterterrorism and Intelligence, John Miller, said in a statement. “While there is no indication of any threat to media outlets beyond this incident, we have provided an additional layer of security until we have a fuller understanding of the motive behind the Virginia incident.”
Both Parker and Ward were from the WDBJ viewing area, the station said, with Ward graduating from Salem High School and Virginia Tech and Parker growing up in Martinsville and attending Patrick Henry Community College and James Madison University.
Parker was dating WDBJ anchor Chris Hurst, who said they hadn’t shared their relationship publicly but “were very much in love.” He said they had just moved in together and wanted to get married. “I am numb,” he said.
Ward was engaged to a producer at the station, Melissa Ott, said WDBJ spokesman Mike Morgan.
“Adam was our go-to guy. He pretty much was available to do anything that we asked,” Morgan said. “He did live shots during our morning show for several years.”
Police have told employees of the station to stay inside the building as long as the suspect is on the loose. About 50 people work there, Marks said.
“We have police protection,” Marks said.
Flanagan sued former employer WTWC-TV in north Florida in March 2000, alleging racial discrimination. The lawsuit claimed that a producer called him a “monkey” in 1999 and that other black employees had been called the same name by other workers.
Flanagan also claimed that an unnamed white supervisor at the station said black people were lazy because they did not take advantage of scholarships to attend college.
The station generally denied the allegations of discrimination and said it had legitimate reasons for ending Flanagan’s employment, including poor performance, misbehavior with regard to co-workers, refusal to follow directions, use of profanity and budgetary reasons.
Marks talked briefly on air about Flanagan, describing the suspect as an unhappy, angry man who eventually was fired. Marks says Flanagan was hired as a reporter a few years ago after a while out of the TV news business.
Marks says the man had a reputation of being difficult to work with and being on the lookout for people to say things he could take offense to.
Marks says: “Eventually, after many incidents of his anger coming to the fore, we dismissed him. He did not take that well.”
Marks says that when Flanagan was fired, police had to escort him from the building.
Marks said that Flanagan alleged that other employees made racially-tinged comments to him and that he filed a complaint with the EEOC. But Marks says the allegations couldn’t be corroborated. He says the claim was dismissed.
Marks says Flanagan remained in town after being fired, and every now and then, station employees ran into him.
WDBJ listed Bryce Williams as a reporter at the station on its website on Jan. 17, 2013. By Feb. 8 that same year, his name no longer appeared on the site.
WDBJ tweeted out the below shortly after 9 a.m. ET.
We love you, Alison and Adam. pic.twitter.com/hLSzQi06XE
— WDBJ7 (@WDBJ7) August 26, 2015
More to come…
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