It was an important day for Adam Ward. He had two job interviews lined up Wednesday afternoon in Charlotte, where his bride-to-be recently landed a job. Ward was planning to move away with the woman he fell hard for at the news station where they both met before marrying her next summer.
“Starting a life in Charlotte with his fiancee,” said Ward’s friend Zach Barefoot, “that is what he was looking forward to the most.”
But on the morning of his job interviews in North Carolina, the 27-year-old cameraman for WDBJ7 was fatally shot during a live reporting segment in southwestern Virginia, along with 24-year-old reporter Alison Parker. The woman they were interviewing — Vicki Gardner, executive director of the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce — was also struck by gunfire but survived.
Ward’s fiancee, Melissa Ott, a producer at the station, witnessed the shooting as it unfolded live on the air, said reporter Justin Ward, who is not related to Adam Ward. Ott was overcome and had to be rushed to the hospital, he said.
Now plans for a beachfront wedding in South Carolina have shifted to funeral arrangements for Ward, whom friends and colleagues described as a fun-loving sports fan, a dedicated journalist and an adoring boyfriend.
“He was just a big cheerful guy with a smile on his face, ready to get the [images] he needed to get,” said Timothy Martin,who often worked with Parker and Ward as the media and communications coordinator for Roanoke. “Obviously, he was professional, but he knew how to laugh.”
Comments from his Facebook page show he liked to poke fun at himself.
“So this happened at breakfast,” Ward wrote beside a photo of him grinning before platters of french toast, scrambled eggs and other goodies at IHOP. “We went straight fat kids this morning . . . LOOK AT ALL THE BACON.”
In another photo, Ward mocked the early hours he worked with Ott, a producer on the morning show with him.
“What does a mid 20s relationship look like when you work weird hours?” Ward posted with a boardgame and snacks. “Battleship and bagel bites.”
Ward attended Virginia Tech, where he worked at the university’s TV station and earned a degree in communication and media studies in 2011.
The photo WDBJ issued of Ward shows him in a Virginia Tech hoodie. And images from his Facebook and Twitter pages shows him decked out in Hokies hats and shirts, posing with the school mascot, or with his belly painted maroon and gold at a basketball game.
“He’s the only person who knows more about Virginia Tech football than I do,” said Barefoot, who met Ward in college as freshmen. “He and his dad had been going to Virginia Tech games since he was 3.”
After graduation, Ward got a job at WDBJ, where he had once been an intern. He worked in the production department at the CBS TV affiliate before becoming the roving cameraman for the station’s morning show with Parker as his partner.
On the morning of the shooting, Parker and Ward were interviewing Gardner to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the recreational area near Smith Mountain Lake in Franklin County.
Gardner, 61, was in stable condition Wednesday afternoon after surgery, said Jessica Gauldin, vice chairman of the chamber.
Gardner has worked for the organization for 13 years, according to an online résumé, and is known as a passionate community leader. “She is the all-star of the lake . . . she is at every event,” said Gauldin, who was at the hospital with family and friends.
Early morning interviews were not uncommon for Parker and Ward, who would be up before the sun to tackle everything from breaking news to community events.
While Ward worked behind the camera, he would occasionally emerge for segments. He strapped on roller skates with a giant camera slung over his shoulder for a story on the New River Valley Roller Girls. And he donned a wig and a red dress to play the Ugly Stepmother with Parker as an Ugly Stepsister for a feature about a local production of Cinderella.
WDBJ General Manager Jeff Marks said Ward would often run to help on a news story even if he was on his way home or outside of his regular shift. He called the loss of Ward and Parker “the worst day of my career. And it is for everyone here.”
While WDBJ is where Ward started his career, it is also where he fell in love with Ott.
“He knew pretty fast that she was the one,” Barefoot said.
Before Christmas, he took Ott to the balcony of the Newseum and asked her on bended knee to marry him.
“He’d always comment on the photos I post on Facebook about my daughters and how adorable they are,” Martin said. “He always said he hoped to have a family like that one day. He was on his way to get that.”