By Amanda Iacone, Neal Augenstein and Marcus J. Moore
WASHINGTON — The man who allegedly shot and killed a TV reporter and cameraman in Southwest Virginia has died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to the Franklin County Sheriff's office.
Vester Lee Flanagan, 41, was pronounced dead shortly before 1:30 p.m. at the Inova Fairfax Hospital.
The pursuit of the shooter led police from Smith Mountain Lake, north of Danville, to Interstate 66 in Fauquier County.
State police say a trooper tried to pull over the suspected shooter on eastbound I-66 near Markham -- about three hours away from the initial shooting -- about 11:30 a.m., but the driver refused to stop and sped away. The driver ran off the road and crashed a few minutes later.
Officers found the driver in the vehicle suffering a gun shot wound. He was taken to the hospital with life-threatening injuries. Initially, police said they believed the driver had been killed, but quickly clarified that he survived.
Police believed the driver was the same man suspected of shooting and killing reporter Alison Parker, and photojournalist Adam Ward, who were interviewing Vicki Gardner near Smith Mountain Lake in Franklin County this morning. Gardner was also injured, but she is in stable condition.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe tells WTOP that investigators believe the shooter was a disgruntled employee of Roanoke TV station, WDBJ. He also said that the shooting was not related to terrorism, but a criminal matter.
WDBJ General Manager Jeffrey Marks says that Flanagan was fired for anger problems about two years ago and that the station had to call police to escort him from the building.
Flanagan was a former reporter, who went by the on-air name of Bryce Williams, at WDBJ. After he left the station, he filed a complaint with an equal opportunity commission alleging that various members of the station staff had made racial comments, which could not be corroborated. The commission dismissed the complaint.
Chilling cellphone video taken from the shooter's perspective was shared on social media this morning and was promptly taken down by both Facebook and Twitter under the handle Bryce Williams. It showed an outstretched arm holding the handgun and firing repeatedly at Parker as she tried to run away.
The shooter appeared to walk up to the victims and stand a few feet away from them while holding the weapon. The three, in the midst of a live TV interview, do not seem to notice the gunman, who doesn't start shooting until Ward points the camera at Parker and Gardner.
Parker is heard screaming and is seen running away as shots are fired. Roughly 15 shots can be heard, including several that were fired after the video goes dark.
Parker, 24, and Ward, 27, worked for WDBJ and went to the Bridgewater Plaza in Moneta, on the Franklin County-Bedford County line to interview Gardner, with the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce, about the 50th anniversary of the lake at the time of the shooting. Gardner was in surgery, according to the station.
They were reporting live when the three were shot.
Parker was a 2012 graduate of James Madison University, where she studied media arts and worked as a reporter and editor for the student paper.
According to her Facebook page, Parker spent most of her life outside Martinsville, Virginia. She was an avid kayaker and attended community theater events in her spare time.
Ward was a 2011 graduate of Virginia Tech, where he earned a communications degree. He was engaged to a producer at the station, Melissa Ott, said WDBJ spokesman Mike Morgan.
"Adam was our go-to guy. He pretty much was available to do anything that we asked,'' Morgan said. ``He did live shots during our morning show for several years.''
Parker had recently moved in with another co-worker, WDBJ anchor Christ Hurst. Hurst wrote online that they hadn’t shared their relationship publicly but “were very much in love.” He said they had just moved in together and wanted to get married. “I am numb,” he said.
Parker was raised in the Martinsville, Virginia, area and joined the station as an intern after attending James Madison University, where she was the editor of the school’s newspaper, The Breeze.
Others at the station said it was particularly hard for Ott, who watched the shooting unfold from the control room.
Tweets posted on Williams’ Twitter account Wednesday described workplace conflicts with both victims.
ABC News reported that a man claiming to be Williams called the network, saying he had just shot two people, and was faxing them a 23-page document. That document is being analyzed by investigators, Franklin County Sheriff W.Q. “Bill” Overton Jr. said at a news conference.
According to the network, the man claiming to be Flanagan says in the “suicide note” that he bought a gun two days after the Charleston, South Carolina church shootings, seeking revenge for racial discrimination, sexual harassment and workplace bullying he said he suffered as a gay black man.
“This gentleman was disturbed at the way things had turned out at some point in his life. Things were spiraling out of control,” Overton said.
The shooting happened around 6:45 a.m. at Bridgewater Plaza in Franklin County, as Parker interviewed Gardner about the upcoming 50th anniversary festivities for Smith Mountain Lake, a local tourism destination.
The Associated Press and CBS News contributed to this report.
We didn't share this publicly, but Alison Parker and I were very much in love. We just moved in together. I am numb. We were together almost nine months. It was the best nine months of our lives. We wanted to get married. We just celebrated her 24th birthday. 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. I am comforted by everyone at WDBJ7. We are a family. She worked with Adam every day. They were a team. I am heartbroken for his fiancee. She is our morning show producer. This is unconscionable. But I WILL share her story because it is one full of life, dreams, love and amazing journalism. She just finished working on an incredible special on child abuse and it was fantastic. We will get through this and there will be justice. Your thoughts and prayers mean the world to me.
BLACKSBURG, Va., Aug. 26, 2015 – We have learned that Adam Laing Ward, a 2011 Virginia Tech alumnus, was shot and killed during a live broadcast this morning along with reporter Alison Parker. Adam had a bachelor's degree in communication. We extend our deepest sympathies their families.
It is shocking and deeply saddening for this community to be again struck by gun violence. We deplore this senseless violence, now seemingly commonplace in our society.
Robert Denton, professor and chair of the Department of Communication, knew Adam, taught him in classes, and since Denton was a guest broadcaster at WDBJ and worked with Adam at station, he offers this remembrance:
“Adam was a delightful person. He worked hard – you could tell he loved what he was doing. He wasn’t afraid to pitch in and do whatever was necessary for the broadcast. He did whatever was needed with a smile and with grace. He was simply a very nice young man and very professional.”
And Alison was such a sweet and hardworking young newscaster. I have worked with both of them for nearly three years in the field and studio. Very delightful people and I loved mentoring and being with them. I just find this violence hard to fathom.” – Robert Denton.
Friends and colleagues said Wednesday that Alison Parker and Adam Ward were part of a close-knit family at TV station WDBJ in Roanoke, Virginia.
Read more here.
The fiancee of the cameraman killed during a live broadcast outside a Virginia shopping mall was marking her last day at the TV station before moving on to a job in North Carolina.
WDBJ-TV general manager Jeffrey Marks said Wednesday was cameraman Adam Ward’s fiancee, station producer Melissa Ott, was in the control room Wednesday morning as the shooting unfolded.
In an interview with CNN, Marks said: “It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? She was moving on to a station in Charlotte. It was going to be a day of celebration.”
Ward and reporter Alison Parker were killed. Parker also was dating a co-worker, anchor Chris Hurst. Hurst tweeted that Ward and Parker worked together every day. He says: “They were a team.”
Read more here.
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