RICHMOND — A state senator from southwest Virginia told police Wednesday that he felt threatened by the father of the Roanoke TV reporter fatally shot during a live broadcast in August.
Andy Parker has become the public face of gun-control efforts in Virginia in the aftermath of his daughter’s slaying, appearing with Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), campaigning for legislative candidates who favor gun control, and starring in TV commercials that are part of a $2.2 million ad buy bankrolled by former New York mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s gun safety group.
Late Tuesday, Parker sent this message to Sen. William M. Stanley Jr. (R-Franklin), via Facebook: “I’m going to be your worst nightmare you little bastard.”
“I take this very seriously as a threat against the safety of my family,” said Stanley, who has received an A rating from the National Rifle Association. He said he contacted Capitol Police and the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, and picked up applications for concealed handgun permits for himself and his wife because of the message.
“We are proud firearms owners, but I never felt the need for a concealed-carry permit until now,” Stanley said.
Parker confirmed that he sent the message but said the intended threat was only political.
“I don’t own a gun,” Parker said. “I have a pellet gun, that’s it. . . . If he thinks I’m going to be a threat to him other than a political threat, that is just mind-boggling.”
Parker sent Stanley another Facebook message after a Washington Post reporter contacted him about the alleged threat.
“Thank you again for providing me another opportunity to call you out in the press because I ‘frightened’ you,” Parker wrote. “You’re the only person I know that would try to turn me into a threatening bad guy. I love it.”
In August, former TV station employee Vester L. Flanagan II gunned down WDBJ reporter Alison Parker, 24, and cameraman Adam Ward, 27, on live television. The tragedy thrust Andy Parker, a former actor who was a cowboy in a 1982 Raisin Bran commercial, into the national and international spotlight. He has been on a treadmill of interviews, rallies and political events ever since, calling for greater gun control. “A BBC producer even told him he was a ‘rock star,’ ” the Martinsville Bulletin reported.
Parker has singled out a handful of NRA-backed legislators in media interviews and posted caustic comments on their Facebook pages. On Wednesday morning, Parker and his wife, Barbara, were featured in a media conference call with Democrat Sara Townsend, who is challenging Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter (R-Prince William), a gun rights supporter, in the Nov. 3 election.
“The Virginia General Assembly is full of cowards, but Delegate Lingamfelter is in a league of his own,” Parker said on the call, according to a summary provided to the news media.
Stanley, who is Parker’s state senator and once opposed a bill related to kayaking that Parker supported, has been a particular focus of Parker’s ire. The senator said he shook that off until Wednesday morning, when he saw a Facebook message that he considered a physical threat to himself and his family.
“From the very beginning, he turned on me as if I had something to do with the horrible death of his daughter,” Stanley said. “It’s not rational, but nevertheless, when I was asked about it, I said, ‘Let him grieve. If I have to be the object as he works through this, fine.’ But this goes beyond the pale.”
Parker stood by the message, as well as postings made on the Facebook page for Manassas Mayor Harry J. “Hal” Parrish II (R), who is in a tight race with Democrat Jeremy McPike for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Charles J. Colgan (D-Prince William).
“It is legitimate. I am going to be his worst nightmare,” Parker said. “He and Parrish are both little cowards. Anything I say to him and post on his Web site, I will take full credit for.”
Parker said Stanley was only pretending to feel physically threatened.
“He’s not freaked out. He’s trying to flip the conversation,” Parker said. “If I wanted to threaten him personally, the last thing I would do is post it on his Facebook page.”
Capt. Raymond J. Goodloe III, deputy chief of operations for Capitol Police, confirmed that Stanley had contacted the department Wednesday morning “regarding a matter of concern to him.” He declined to elaborate. Officials with the Sheriff’s Office did not return a message seeking comment.
Parrish campaign manager Luisa Guerra said she recently blocked Parker from “trolling” the candidate’s Facebook page after he posted a series of harsh comments. One message from Parker read: “What rag is that, Hal?” referring to an InsideNOVA editorial endorsing him that he had posted on Facebook. “Hope you like my ad, you coward.”
Parrish received an A-minus from the NRA.
“We understand he is a grieving father, and as a father himself, Hal’s heart goes out to Mr. Parker,” Guerra said in an e-mail. “We welcome conversation on the issues, however, this particular conversation has been reduced to inappropriate name-calling and personal attacks on social media and elsewhere.”
Stanley and Lingamfelter both said they saw Parker’s statements as the product of grief.
“I understand the man’s grief. My wife and I lost our daughter in childbirth,” Stanley said. “But that grief can make you more emotional. It appears I have been the target of his anger. It has escalated to the point where it’s dangerous.”
Lingamfelter said: “My heart goes out to the Parkers, having lost their daughter in such a tragic way to a vile murderer. Sometimes things get said in anger, and I understand that.”
Not long after his daughter’s death, Parker told an interviewer that he was considering buying a gun to protect himself against a potential attack by someone opposed to gun control. He has since reconsidered.
“It was shortly thereafter,” Parker said Wednesday. “Your nerves are raw and sometimes you say things that you think, ‘Well, maybe I shouldn’t have said that.’ ”
Parker said he had been unnerved by postings on YouTube and elsewhere contending that the shooting had been a “hoax” and that Parker was a “crisis actor.”
“I started getting YouTube notifications of these people saying just ugly, crazy stuff, that the whole thing was a hoax, it was made up, and we were crisis actors,” he said. “I’ve had some weird, semi-threatening [messages].”
But, Parker added, “I didn’t feel it was necessary to call the state police and cry to the state police, and go out and get a concealed weapons permit.”