Suspect in Virginia TV crew killing dies after shooting self

Author: Stanley B. Chambers Jr.
Published: Updated:

MONETA, Va. – The suspected shooter of a television news crew killed during a live broadcast Wednesday morning has died after shooting himself on a Virginia highway, Virginia Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran said.

WDBJ reporter Alison Parker and photographer Adam WardWDBJ-TV reporter Alison Parker and photographer Adam Ward were shot to death during a live interview at a shopping center at about 6:40 a.m.

Video from the interview showed Parker interviewing Vicki Garner, executive director of the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber, about the center’s 50th anniversary when shots rang out. Garner, who was also shot, was last listed in stable condition at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital.

Vester Lee Flanagan, 41, a former WDBJ reporter who went by Bryce Williams on-air, shot himself while in a vehicle on Interstate 66 East at mile marker 17, WDBJ reported.

Virginia state troopers located Flanagan’s Chevrolet Sonic on the highway at about 11:30 a.m.

“The suspect vehicle refused to stop and sped away from the trooper,” the agency said on its Facebook page. “Minutes later, the suspect vehicle ran off the road and crashed. The troopers approached the vehicle and found the male driver suffering from a gunshot wound.”

Flanagan was airlifted to Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church, Va., where he died at 1:26 p.m.

Jeffrey A. Marks, WDBJ general manager, called the killings “a terrible crime against two fine journalists.” He described Flanagan as “not a happy man” with a reputation of being difficult to work with.

“He was sort of looking for people to say things he could take offense to,” he said. “Eventually, after many incidents of his anger coming to the fore, we dismissed him. He did not take that well. We had to call the police to escort him from the building.”

Racial claims

Flanagan, who is black, filed an action with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after being fired from WDBJ in 2013, claiming that racial comments were made towards him during his employment, Marks said. The claim was eventually dismissed.

“None of them could be corroborated by anyone,” Marks said. “We think they were fabricated.”

Flanagan sued a former employer over allegations of race discrimination in 2000. While an employee at WTWC-TV in Tallahassee, Flanagan claimed 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 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.

Investigators could not say Wednesday if Flanagan’s racial claims were related to the shootings.

“It’s obvious this gentleman was disturbed in someway,” Franklin County (Va.) Sheriff W.Q. “Bill” Overton Jr. said.

First person video

Following the shootings, a Twitter account with Flanagan’s on-air name and picture posted tweets including “Alison made racist comments,” “EEOC report filed,” “Adam went to hr on me after working with me one time” and “I filmed the shooting see Facebook.” The account has been taken down.

In a first person video posted to Facebook and Twitter accounts with Flanagan’s on-air name, the shooter appeared to walk up to the victims and stand a few feet away from them while holding a handgun. The three do not seem to notice the gunman, who doesn’t start shooting until Ward points the camera at Parker and Gardner.

Parker is heard screaming “Oh my God” and is seen running away as shots were fired. Roughly 15 shots can be heard, including several that were fired after the video goes dark. The camera dropped as Ward and Garner were shot. The video was also removed from social media.

After Ward was shot, his television camera dropped to the ground and captured what appeared to be a fleeting image of the shooter. The person was wearing black pants and a blue top and appeared to be holding a handgun.

WDBJ quickly switched back to the anchor at the station, her eyes large and jaw dropping as she said, “OK, not sure what happened there.” The station later went live again, reporting on their own station and staff as the story developed.

Parker and Ward were pronounced dead at the scene.

ABC News reported on its website that the network received a 23-page fax from someone claiming to be Williams. The network said the fax was turned over to authorities, and did not elaborate on its contents.

In love with fellow co-workers

Parker and Ward were romantically involved with other employees at the station, according to Parker’s boyfriend, WDBJ anchor Chris Hurst. He wrote online that 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.

In a tweet, the station said “We love you, Alison and Adam.”

Ward, 27, graduated from Virginia Tech University and 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.”

Ward was engaged to a producer at the station, Melissa Ott, who was celebrating her last day on the job and was in the control room, watching it live, as the shooting unfolded, Marks said.

Parker had just turned 24 and had joined the station as an intern after attending James Madison University, where she was the editor of the school’s newspaper, The Breeze. According to her Facebook page, Parker spent most of her life outside Martinsville, Virginia. She was an avid kayaker and attended community theater events in her spare time.

“Today we received news that no family should ever hear,” Parker’s family said in a statement. “Our vivacious, ambitious, smart, engaging, hilarious, beautiful, and immensely talented Alison taken from the world. This is senseless and our family is crushed.”

The station is based in Roanoke, Virginia, and serves the southwest and central part of the state. The shootings happened at a mall just off Smith Mountain Lake in Moneta, about 25 miles southeast of Roanoke.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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