New details have emerged surrounding the Virginia news crew killed Wednesday morning by an angry former employee of the news station, who filmed himself as he shot dead both a reporter and her cameraman. The gunman, who has a history of filing alleged racist complaints, turned on his cell phone camera, pointed his Glock handgun at the interviewers, and recorded the shootings. He later committed suicide after leading police on a brief pursuit.
Writes the Washington Post on Aug. 26, via MSN News: “Alison Parker, 24, was interviewing the head of the local chamber of commerce live on Roanoke’s ‘News 7 Mornin’ show when the shooting began. Vester L. Flanagan II — an embittered former colleague — would soon post the horror he recorded to Facebook and Twitter. Parker and her cameraman, Adam Ward, 27, died at the scene; the chamber director, Vicki Gardner, 62, underwent surgery and is expected to recover.”
Vester Lee Flanagan, 41, was described by WDBJ-TV station manager Jeffrey A. Marks as “an unhappy man” that had “some talent” as a reporter but was ultimately fired for a number of offenses. “He quickly gathered a reputation as someone who was difficult to work with,” Marks said, adding that Flanagan would quickly “take offense” and label people as racists.
Flanagan’s family read an on-air statement, offering condolences to the victims’ loved ones. A family spokesperson read the following statement, but did not take any questions.
“It is with heavy hearts and deep sadness that we express our deepest condolences to the families of Alison Parker and Adam Ward. We are also praying for the recovery of Vicki Gardner. Our thoughts and prayers at this time are with the victims’ families and the WBDJ7 NEWS family. Words cannot express the hurt that we feel for the victims. Our family is asking that the media respect our privacy.”
Family and friends of both Parker and Ward spoke highly of them. Parker, who was engaged to be married, was described as a “rock star” reporter who loved whitewater kayaking. She was “the most radiant woman I ever met,” said a colleague. “She was the sort of person you never saw without a smile.”
Chris Hurst, an anchor at the station where Parker worked, said he and Alison were “very much in love.” They had just purchased a place together. “I am numb,” he wrote. “She was the most radiant woman I ever met. And for some reason, she loved me back. She loved her family, her parents and her brother.”
Virginia Tech professor Robert Denton remembers Adam Ward from his days in school. “Adam was a delightful person. He worked hard — you could tell he loved what he was doing,” Denton said, who taught Ward and worked with him on occasion at the station. “He wasn’t afraid to pitch in and do whatever was necessary for the broadcast. He did whatever was needed with a smile and with grace. He was simply a very nice young man and very professional.”
Jeff Marks called Parker and Ward “the kindest and nicest people” at his station, and wondered why the two of them were targeted by the deranged Flanagan and not himself. “Why were they the targets and not I?” Marks asked. “What do you do? Do you imagine that everyone who leaves your company under difficult circumstances is going to take aim?”
Prior to Flanagan’s social media accounts being taken down – he posted the footage showing himself killing the two employees – he wrote messages directed at both Parker and Ward.
Flanagan wrote: “I filmed the shooting see Facebook,” and that “Adam went to [human resources] on me after working with me one time!” and “Alison made racist comments. EEOC report filed. They hired her after that?”
Speaking of Flanagan’s work record, Marks said: “Eventually after many incidents of his anger coming to the fore, we dismissed him. And he did not take that well, we had to call the police to escort him from the building…Since then, well, he then filed an action with the Equal Opportunity Employment Committee in which he made all kinds of complaints,” adding that “none of [Flanagan’s complaints] could be corroborated by anyone, we think they were fabricated.”
According to The Associated Press, WDBJ observed a moment of silence this morning at 6:45 a.m. – the time when Flanagan opened fire on Ward and Parker. The station showed viewers happy photos of the pair during the live broadcast. Station anchor Kim McBroom joined hands with weatherman Leo Hirsbrunner and anchor Steve Grant. “Joining hands here on the desk. It’s the only way to do it,” McBroom said.
Franklin County Sheriff Bill Overton Jr. said Flanagan sent lengthy, rambling manifesto detailing the reasons behind the shootings to a news station in New York. The station turned over the letter to police.
“It’s obvious this gentleman was disturbed in some way,” Overton said of the letter. “Things were spiraling out of control (for him)…I’m not even sure that the individuals who were shot and killed even realized he was there.”
Flanagan was fired from a Florida news station fifteen years ago because of “bizarre behavior,” said Don Shafer, the former news director of Florida’s WTWC-TV. Shafer said Flanagan was threatening other employees.
Flanagan “was a good on-air performer, a pretty good reporter and then things started getting a little strange with him,” Shafer recalled. “He threatened to punch people out and he was kind of running fairly roughshod over other people in the newsroom.”
In one part of the letter, obtained by ABC News, Flanagan wrote: “I’ve been a human powder keg for a while, just waiting to go BOOM!!!!”