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Live updates: TV shooting leaves two dead

August 26, 2015

A television reporter and a videographer for a CBS affiliate WDBJ7 in Roanoke, Va., were shot and killed Wednesday morning as they were doing a live report.

  • Julie Zauzmer
  • ·

Vester Lee Flanagan II shot and killed two former coworkers because of workplace grievances and anger from the massacre at a black church in Charleston, S.C., Flanagan wrote in a suicide note he sent to ABC News shortly after the killings Wednesday morning.

In the document, obtained independently by The Washington Post, the writer makes reference to several previous mass shootings that have captured national attention.

He seems to admire some previous shooters. But Flanagan, who writes extensively about his experiences as a black man in the memorandum, was enraged by the Charleston massacre at a black church.

“What sent me over the top was the church shooting,” he wrote. “As for Dylann Roof? … You want a race war…? BRING IT THEN.”

Read more here.

  • Justin Jouvenal
  • ·

WDBJ crime reporter Nadine Maeser said the news team at the station had a meeting at 2:30 p.m. to discuss how to cover the story of the day: the shooting of their own reporters.

For a crime reporter, it was a surreal moment.

“I’ve been on the other side reporting on these type of incidents,” Maeser said. “It’s strange to find yourself on this side.”

Maeser said reporters soldiered on, because it’s what “Alison and Adam would have wanted us to do.”

Maeser said she was good friends with Adam Ward and his fiancée, producer Melissa Ott. She was supposed to be a bridesmaid in their wedding.

“He was always the first one in the door and the last one to leave,” Maeser said of the slain cameraman. “He was goofy and full of life.”

  • Justin Jouvenal
  • ·

The call came at 7:11 a.m. WDBJ reporter Justin Ward (no relation to Adam Ward) said he was awoken from sleep.

It was his boss at the station. “We’ve had an incident during a live shot and we need everyone at the station,” he recalled him saying.

Ward said he was receiving messages on Facebook, so he had an inkling of what was going on as he made the 30-minute drive to WDBJ in Roanoke. He called it the longest of his life.

When he arrived, he said, he found a scene of total grief. Employees were hugging each other and crying.

“We are a family,” Ward said. “We call each other ‘cousins.’ That’s how close we are.”

Ward said he and many other employees learned Parker and Ward were confirmed dead when the station’s general manager went on the air and announced it.

He said a howl went up in the studio that he thought might have been heard on air.

At some point, Melissa Ott, Adam Ward’s fiancée, was overcome and had to be rushed to the hospital. She witnessed the shooting as it unfolded live on the air and is a producer at the station.

Later that morning, he said, the news team gathered for a meeting. They sang “Amazing Grace” and recited an “Our Father” and the 23rd Psalm.

Ward said Alison Parker’s boyfriend, anchor Chris Hurst, then got up and showed everyone a photo album she had put together.

Still, they were reporters and had a job to do.  So they went about reporting.

“We are not really covering this,” Ward said. “We are grieving through this.”

Ward said Parker was his intern and she always had a smile on her face. “She would ask really thoughtful questions about the business,” Ward said. “She was going to go places.”

  • Paul Duggan
  • ·

Jeff Marks, the general manager at WDBJ, said of the two station employees killed Wednesday: “When this kind of thing happens, you expect the employer to say this person hung the moon, the best ever. And yet it’s not hyperbole to say that about these two. They were eager; they wanted to learn; they wanted to improve; they wanted to impress; they wanted to carry the torch of the First Amendment and do it right.”

Marks has been working in broadcast news since 1971 and has been a TV news manager for the past 35 years. Describing Wednesday, he said: “It’s the worst day of my career. And it is for everyone here.”

He said that the WDBJ newsroom, which has about 50 employees, is “shell-shocked.”

As for Flanagan, Marks said the former employee, who went by Bryce Williams on air, was fired because he showed poor job performance and could not get along with other employees, many of whom complained about how difficult he was to work with.

“He was a man with a lot of anger. It came out in his relationships. He had trouble working with fellow employees and he had a short fuse. It got to the point where news photographers and producers just didn’t enjoy working with him.”

Marks said that Alison Parker, who started working at WDBJ about a year ago, did not cross paths with Flanagan at the station in her current role as a full-timer reporter, because Flanagan was fired in February 2013, before Parker was hired. But Parker had been an intern at the station in 2012, while Flanagan was working there.

Asked if Flanagan and Parker had any run-ins when she was an intern, Marks said: “Not that I recall. But, you know, he had conflicts with so many people here, I don’t remember all the specific ones.”

Marks said that when Flanagan was hired in 2012, he was not involved in the vetting process, including checking Flanagan’s job references. But he said that Flanagan’s prior problems, specifically at WTWC-TV in Tallahassee, Fla., did not come up.

  • Keith L. Alexander
  • ·

Like many of the residents of the East Oakland neighborhood in the early 1970s, Roxane Barker, 54, grew up calling Vester Flanagan II “Little Vester.”

Barker said her family was the first African-American family to integrate the predominately white neighborhood. The Flanagans, she recalled, were the third black family to move into the neighborhood.

“It was not easy,” she recalled. “Racism was very prevalent while he was growing up. I can understand how he might have the point of view he had.” She could not recall any specific examples, however.

Barker said her family lived across the street from the Flanagans. She said Vester Flanagan Sr. was a former athlete who worked as a dean at one point at San Francisco State University and his wife, Vester II’s mother, was a school teacher.

“We are in complete disbelief. He was an high achiever, goal-oriented, kind and gentle person,” she said. “That’s who I know. I don’t know what transpired in his life in his later years.” Barker said she had not seen young Flanagan in more than a year.

“I knew him before he was born,” she joked. “This is a heinous thing that has happened.”

  • David Nakamura
  • ·

“It breaks my heart every time you read or hear about these kinds of incidents,” President Obama said during an interview Wednesday with WPVI, an ABC television affiliate in Philadelphia, which had a prescheduled interview with the president on the Iran nuclear deal. “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.”

  • Justin Jouvenal
  • ·

Pamela Cook, a resident of Roanoke, watched the WDBJ morning team nearly every morning.

She would send the kids to school, pop into her recliner and turn on channel 7 to watch segments by Alison Parker and Adam Ward.

“It was kind of like Folger’s,” Cook said. “I started my day with them.”

Cook was one of a steady stream of Roanoke residents who came to the front of WDBJ’s offices to leave flowers and balloons at a makeshift shrine for the slain journalists.

Cook said no matter what her mood, she would be lifted up after an hour of watching. She said their on-air antics often left her laughing.

“They were part of the family,” Cook said. “They were in your house every morning.”

She laid two sunflowers at the memorial for Parker and Ward because they were “rays of sun.”

Cook said Roanoke is a small town, and she would often see them reporting around town. She said they always had a kind word for her and thanked her for watching.

Josh Miller, 22, also of Roanoke, said he dropped off a bouquet of flowers because of all the work Parker and Ward had done for the community.

“They were the voices of the people,” Miller said. “More people around here watch local news than national news.”

A sign left at the memorial featured pictures of Parker and Ward. It read:

“Shining stars. Beloved in this community. We grieve your deaths and will hold you dear in our hearts always.”

Nearby, satellite trucks from across the region and from national news outlets crammed into WDBJ’s parking lot.

  • Paul Duggan
  • ·

Dan Shafer, now news director at XETV in San Diego, said on the air Wednesday that he hired Flanagan at TV station WTWC in Tallahassee, Fla., in 1999, and later fired him for chronic “bizarre behavior.” After he was terminated, Flanagan sued the station, alleging racial discrimination.

“He was a young man, he was a weekend anchor,” Shafer told viewers in San Diego. “We brought him in, he was a good on-air performer, a pretty good reporter. And then things started getting a little strange with him.”

He recalled instances of Flanagan “fighting with other employees.”

Shafer said, “He threatened to punch people out, and he was kind of running roughshod over folks in the newsroom,” which prompted co-workers to complain to human-resources managers. “That’s why we let him go,” Shafer said. “He was pretty difficult to work with.”

According to Flanagan’s LinkedIn profile, he left WTWC in March 2000, a year after arriving. He then worked in customer service for Bank of America and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. before returning to TV news in 2002, as a reporter, producer and anchor at WNCT in Greenville, N.C.

  • Joel Achenbach
  • ·

Rage, narcissism, a gun and social media combined for a particularly excruciating display of horror Wednesday morning. After murdering two former colleagues during a live TV news stand-up, the Roanoke killer uploaded a horrifying message to his Twitter account: “I filmed the shooting see Facebook.”

So now there were two awful videos — the live stand-up filmed by the videographer, and the killer’s even more gruesome amateur version taken with his phone.

This instantly took over the news feeds of the world. If you were anywhere near the Internet you wound up experiencing this crime. You couldn’t escape it. This was an event both intimate and universal, and shared at the speed of light.

Continue reading here.

  • Julie Zauzmer
  • ·
  • Laura Vozzella
  • ·

Vicki Gardner, who was wounded along with the two journalists who were killed, has been executive director of the Smith Mountain Lake Chamber of Commerce for more than a decade, according to state Sen. William Stanley (R-Franklin).

“Vicki was doing what Vicki does best, which is touting the benefits of the lake,” Stanley said. “Showcasing the lake in all its goodness – it’s hard to believe that that would happen.”

Stanley’s law office is a mile and a half from the site of the shooting, in an old plantation house. He said he knew Gardner, who is married to the owner of a local home-inspection business, as an upbeat promoter of the area.

She was hospitalized after the Wednesday morning shooting.

“Vicki’s one of the greatest people you ever want to meet,” he said. “She’s a shining star of the lake, just so friendly. She’s never met a stranger.”

Stanley said he had interacted with the suspect, who had served as both cameraman and reporter when interviewing the senator for a story. Stanley could not recall when that interview took place, but he said that nothing about the reporter he knew as Bryce Williams stood out as strange.

“He was friendly,” Stanley said.

Stanley also knew Parker, who had interviewed him about some of the animal-protection bills he had proposed in the General Assembly. He called her a “wonderful young lady.” He said he knows her father, Andy Parker, a former member of the Henry County Board of Supervisors.

“I know they are just devastated,” he said of Parker’s family. “I’m sure she was the apple of their eye.”

“It’s a very sad day in Franklin County and one that we will not soon forget,” Stanley said. “Those young people who lost their lives today were just doing their job and were trying to do their best.”

  • Jenna Portnoy
  • ·

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe  expressed sympathy Wednesday afternoon for the shooting victims, renewed his call for gun control and praised law enforcement personnel.

“I am heartbroken,” he told reporters at the Capitol in Richmond. “There really are not words to describe what has happened here in the commonwealth.”

McAuliffe (D) said that in the 2016 legislative session, he will push for background checks to close what activists call the gun show loophole.

“There are certain individuals that should not be allowed to purchase firearms,” he said. “You don’t know unless you go through a background check.”

Similar proposals from McAuliffe, who says he is a gun owner and hunter, have gone nowhere in the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

“I will continue to do it,” he said. “I don’t know if I will be successful.”

Yet, he added, the focus now should be on the victims.

  • Laura Vozzella
  • ·

The shootings shattered the tranquility of a lakeside retreat nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, which draws vacationers, retirees and Roanoke commuters.  In a place where front doors routinely go unsecured, schools and businesses were suddenly on lockdown.

“We don’t have violent crime in our area,” said state Sen. William Stanley (R-Franklin). “We have some property crimes, but even that is few and far between. It’s as close to Mayberry as you can get.”

  • Julie Zauzmer
  • ·

Jeb Bush didn’t bring up the shooting in Virginia during a town hall meeting in Pensacola, Fla., but he was asked about it afterward by reporters.

“It’s a tragedy. I don’t have enough details to determine what the reason for all this is. I can’t comment on that. But it’s clearly a tragedy when you have in a free society that kind of violence take place,” he said.

Before Bush spoke, a man who gave an opening prayer asked that the crowd pray for the victims of the shooting.

Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.

  • Mark Berman
  • ·

A man claiming to be the gunman sent ABC News a 23-page letter Wednesday morning saying he was motivated by the mass shooting at a Charleston, S.C., church last month, according to the network.

“Why did I do it?” stated the fax, which was received shortly before 8:30 a.m. Wednesday. “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 goes on to state: “What sent me over the top was the church shooting. And my hollow point bullets have the victims’ initials on them.”

Authorities have not confirmed that the document was sent by the shooter, who was pronounced dead about 1:30 p.m.

In the letter, excerpts of which were posted online by ABC News, the author references several gunmen who have carried out mass shootings across the United States. He writes that he was “influenced” by the gunman who killed 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2007 and refers positively to the two teenagers who killed 12 students and a teacher at Columbine High School in 1999, according to ABC.

The document specifically points to the June shooting massacre in South Carolina, where police said Dylann Roof shot and killed nine parishioners inside a historic African American church. Authorities said that Roof had posted a racist diatribe on his Web site before the attack, and he has been indicted on federal hate crime charges.

“The church shooting was the tipping point … but my anger has been building steadily … I’ve been a human powder keg for a while … just waiting to go BOOM!!!!”, the document said, according to ABC News.

The fax also addressed Roof by name, with the phrases “You want a race war” and “BRING IT THEN YOU WHITE” directed at him, ABC reported.

It also includes what ABC calls a suicide note for friends and family, which describes feeling bullied at work and being discriminated against for his race and sexual orientation. And at one point, the author of the letter writes that Jehovah spoke to him and encouraged him to act.

“Yes, it will sound like I am angry … I am,” the letter states, according to ABC. “And I have every right to be. But when I leave this Earth, the only emotion I want to feel is peace.”

  • Julie Zauzmer
  • ·

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.

  • Jenna Portnoy
  • ·

Brian Moran, Virginia secretary of public safety, said the shooter was pronounced dead at the hospital at 1:26 pm, according to state police.

  • Ian Shapira
  • ·

“My grief is unbearable,” said Andy Parker, whose daughter Alison was killed this morning. “Is this real? Am I going to wake up? I am crying my eyes out. I don’t know if there’s anybody in this world or another father who could be more proud of their daughter.”

Read more here.

  • Ian Shapira
  • ·

Andy Parker, father of 24-year-old victim Alison Parker, shared photographs of Alison and her family.

Allison Parker enjoyed kayaking. (Courtesy of Andy Parker)

Allison Parker enjoyed kayaking. (Courtesy of Andy Parker)

Alison Parker, her mother Barbara Parker, father Andy Parker and brother Drew Parker at Drew's 28th birthday celebration in June (Courtesy of Andy Parker)

Alison Parker, her mother Barbara Parker, father Andy Parker and brother Drew Parker at Drew’s 28th birthday celebration in June. (Courtesy of Andy Parker)

Alison Parker and her father Andy Parker on top of a Mayan pyramid (Courtesy of Andy Parker)

Alison Parker and her father Andy Parker on top of a Mayan pyramid. (Courtesy of Andy Parker)

  • Arelis R. Hernández
  • ·

A medevac helicopter just landed at Inova Fairfax Hospital. A motorcade of Virginia State Police also just arrived.

Authorities have said that suspect Vester Lee Flanagan, who shot himself while police were chasing him, is in critical condition.

A medevac helicopter lands at Inova Fairfax Hospital. (Arelis Hernandez/The Washington Post)

A medevac helicopter lands at Inova Fairfax Hospital. (Arelis Hernandez/The Washington Post)

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