Alison Parker always checked in with her father. But on Wednesday morning, Andy Parker’s wife got a frightening text message from Alison’s employer, WDBJ7 in Roanoke, saying that she had been involved in a shooting.
The Parkers didn’t know whether she was dead or alive, but her father suspected the worst when they didn’t hear from her.
“Initially, we had some hope, but I knew in my heart of hearts,” Andy Parker, 62, said in an interview with The Washington Post. “Alison would have called me immediately to say she was okay.”
About an hour after the 24-year-old television reporter was gunned down while doing a live interview outside a shopping center in southwest Virginia, a senior manager at the CBS affiliate station called her family to say she had been killed by a disgruntled former co-worker.
“My grief is unbearable,” said her father, a banking industry recruiter from Martinsville, Va. “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.”
He was horrified to learn that the gunman, Vester L. Flanagan II, a 41-year-old former colleague at the TV station, had recorded the shooting and posted video online.
“It’s like showing those beheadings,” he said. “I am not going to watch it. I can’t watch it. I can’t watch any news. All it would do is rip out my heart further than it already it is.”
Alison Parker’s boyfriend, WDBJ evening anchor Chris Hurst, said he’d come home from work around midnight Tuesday and fixed scrambled eggs and a smoothie for Parker, who was soon to get up for her Wednesday morning shift.
After she got ready, Hurst said goodbye to her, and they started exchanging texts. Her last message to him read, “Good night, sweet boy.”
He went to asleep but was awoken Wednesday morning by calls telling him to come to the station.
The two had met at a station Christmas party last year and had their first date on New Year’s Day over a meal of Mexican food both were too nervous to eat.
“We had a love that burned white hot,” Hurst said.
They moved in together this month.
“We wanted to get married,” he wrote on Twitter. “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.”
A memorial is being planned for Parker that would be a joyful celebration with food and memories, not a somber funeral, he said. And a memorial scholarship is being established in Parker’s name at her alma mater, James Madison University.
Hurst touched briefly on Flanagan, who had been fired from the TV station in 2013 and killed Parker and her 27-year-old cameraman, Adam Ward, in a fit of rage.
He said he hoped Wednesday’s awful events would spur a greater discussion of mental health. “Maybe we can have a real conversation about these issues — not gun violence but hate and love,” he said.
Parker’s father was still in disbelief that his daughter, the younger of his two children, was killed as a journalist in such a seemingly safe place.
“Some journalists want to be right out there covering ISIL. She did not want that,” Andy Parker said of the Islamic State extremist group, also known as ISIS. “She was not keen on jumping into the middle of a firefight someplace.”
But she was talented enough, those who knew her say, to make it to a national network as a reporter. The 2012 JMU graduate was one of the most promising journalists the university had seen, said Brad Jenkins, the general manager of the student newspaper “The Breeze,” where she had worked as news editor.
“She was an excellent journalist,” Jenkins said. “I pictured seeing her on national news one day — she was that good. She had the ‘it’ factor.”
The station, her father said, told her that she would become an anchor one day. She wanted to be a national TV reporter. “She’d appreciate the irony of how she’s gone national, but not in the way she wanted,” her father said.
A morning reporter, she was fatally shot Wednesday while on camera for a live spot on the 50th anniversary of Smith Mountain Lake — a reservoir about an hour southeast of Roanoke that has become a popular vacation spot for fishing and boating. Ward also died at the scene.
Parker started working at WDBJ in May 2014. Prior to that, she worked at WCTI (Channel 12) in Jacksonville, N.C., covering news stories and producing content for the station’s Web site.
When Scott Nichols, the news director at WCTI, hired Parker in 2012, he said he picked her résumé out of a stack of more than 100 other prospective reporters.
“She immediately stuck out,” Nichols said. “We all really liked her, and we knew we had to get her here. . . . When you met her, you knew she was going places.”
In Jacksonville, her range of reporting included hurricanes, court cases and community events. When someone was sick, she would fill in at the anchor desk. She was a day reporter there but would voluntarily work mornings and into the night. Nichols said she did everything with enthusiasm, always bobbing her head and moving her hands when she talked in the newsroom.
“She liked the long hours; she would do anything to confirm the story,” Nichols said. “She was so high-energy, sometimes you would just have to say, ‘Take a breath, Alison.’ ”
Jenkins similarly remembered her dedication to the profession, saying that she regularly returned to campus to train and give career advice to the university’s journalism students.
“She was so dedicated to just getting the story,” Jenkins said. “She was a dogged reporter, but she was kind.”
Parker, who was born in Annapolis but grew up in Martinsville, celebrated her 24th birthday last week, on Aug. 19.
At Martinsville High School, she had terrific grades but also found time to excel on the swim team. Her best stroke was the most difficult: butterfly. She was also a gymnast. And a ballerina. And she played the trumpet. And the French horn.
“She could have gone to Broadway,” said her father, a former actor who once performed on Broadway and at the Kennedy Center in Washington.
After she graduated from JMU in December 2012, she immediately got the on-air job in North Carolina. But she almost didn’t go into journalism. In a YouTube video showing Parker listing “7 fun facts” about herself, she says she did so well in math and science that she wanted to become a doctor or pharmacist.
In the video produced by her station, Parker said her favorite hobby was white-water kayaking. She loved Mexican food.
“Enchiladas, tacos, you name it, I will eat it,” she declared. “And the spicier, the better.”
Asked to name her favorite television character, she couldn’t limit it to just one. Walter White in “Breaking Bad,” Don Draper in “Mad Men” and Frank Underwood in “House of Cards” all made the list.
She often asked her father to watch her work.
“She wanted my approval more than anything else,” he said. “Because of my background in theater, she’d say, ‘Hey Dad, what did you think of this [piece]?’ ”
He was especially impressed with a multi-part series, “Childhood Lost,” about neglected children that aired this month. “Her station felt like it was worth an Emmy,” he said.
Her father, who is running for a seat this fall on the Henry County Board of Supervisors, on which he served once before, said that whenever he went campaigning door to door, people asked if he was related to Alison.
“I’d just laugh,” Andy Parker said, “and say, ‘That’s my campaign slogan: I’m Alison’s dad.’ ”