Franklin County Sheriff Bill Overton, whose department is leading the investigation into the shooting, said he knew Alison Parker and Adam Ward personally, and he was watching their morning news report when they were shot.
“It was extremely difficult this morning,” said Overton, who said that Parker and Ward interviewed him about three weeks ago, about the start of a new school year in Franklin County. “It has really stopped me in my tracks. This morning, like many viewers, I was watching this morning’s broadcast and couldn’t understand what was happening myself at that time.”
Overton and Virginia State Police Sgt. Rick Garletts spoke about the morning shooting and the subsequent suicide of the suspect, 41-year-old Vester Lee Flanagan II of Roanoke, at an afternoon news conference.
Overton said that police identified Flanagan as the suspect based on information including video of the 6:43 a.m. shooting. Around 11 a.m., he said, police found Flanagan’s Ford Mustang parked at the Roanoke Regional Airport. They began looking for a Chevrolet Sonic that Flanagan had rented earlier in the month, which they believe he drove from the airport.
Garletts said that a state police trooper noticed the Sonic on I-66 in Fauquier County, thanks to a license plate reader device in her cruiser. She called for backup, activated her emergency lights and chased Flanagan for a minute or two, before he went off the road.
When she approached his car, he had shot himself, Garletts said. Authorities said he was pronounced dead around 1:30 p.m.
Overton said that investigators are looking at a fax many pages long that Flanagan — who went by Bryce Williams when he worked in news, including at WDBJ with Parker and Ward — sent to a national news organization.
“This gentleman was disturbed in some way. The way things transpired, at some point in his life, it looks like some things were spiraling out of control,” Overton said. He did not discuss the contents of the fax, but said, “It certainly goes to show where the gentleman’s mind was the night before. There was some thought given.”
He also spoke about the grief of the local community.
“I’m here today with a sorrowful heart,” he said. “I want to express my condolences to WDBJ for their loss this morning. We know this has been a very difficult situation to manage, professionally and personally.”
Of Ward and Parker, he added, “Let us not forget they were part of this area. They grew up in our community. We don’t want to forget that.
Mason Adams contributed to this report.