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.
Alleged gunman detailed grievances in a series of suicide notes
A little after 10 a.m., he called again, and introduced himself as Bryce, but also said his legal name was Vester Lee Flanagan, and that he shot two people this morning. While on the phone, he said authorities are “after me,” and “all over the place.” He hung up. ABC News contacted the authorities immediately and provided them with the fax.
He writes what triggered today’s carnage was his reaction to the racism of the Charleston church shooting:
“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!!!!”
He said Jehovah spoke to him, telling him to act.
Later in the manifesto, the writer quotes the Virginia Tech mass killer, Seung Hui Cho, and calls him “his boy,” and expresses admiration for the Columbine High School killers. “Also, I was influenced by Seung–Hui Cho. That’s my boy right there. He got NEARLY double the amount that Eric Harris and Dylann Klebold got…just sayin’.
He says has suffered racial discrimination, sexual harassment and bullying at work. He says he has been attacked by black men and white females. He talks about how he was attacked for being a gay, black man.
Experts don’t expect the live shots’ ubiquity to change much, however.
“The reason stations do them is because all of their research tells them that viewers respond to live,” said Deborah Potter, executive director of the think tank NewsLab.
Read more here.
The gunman, who was fired in 2013 from WDBJ in Roanoke, Virginia, fled the scene and went online, posting the video on Facebook and Twitter. He also reportedly faxed a 23-page manifesto and “suicide note” to ABC News, describing himself as a “human powder keg” that was “just waiting to go BOOM!!!!”
Read the full story here.
I still find it unimaginable that poor innocent victims' lives could taken - out doing their job, standing, talking about economic development and bringing folks to Smith Mountain Lake and this tragedy occurred. It just breaks your heart when you think of the families, and so many friends and coworkers who were impacted by what happened today.- Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe
MONETA, Va. (AP) — The latest on the fatal on-air shooting of two TV station employees in Virginia (all times local):
The health insurer UnitedHealthcare says that the gunman in the fatal on-air shooting of two journalists worked as a call center employee in Virginia until November 2014.
UnitedHealthcare spokesman Matt Burns said Wednesday that Vester Flanagan started work at the center in Roanoke, Virginia, in September 2013.
WDBJ-TV has said Flanagan was fired from his reporting job there in 2013. He went by the name Bryce Williams on the air while a reporter there. Police say he shot reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward on a live broadcast Wednesday morning. He later died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
WASHINGTON — James Madison University has established a memorial fund in honor of WDBJ reporter Alison Parker.
Parker and cameraman Adam Ward were shot to death on live television on Wednesday by a former colleague.
“James Madison University is shocked and saddened by the news and circumstances of her death. Our thoughts are with her family, friends and colleagues,” a statement reads on JMU’s website.
The school is now offering an option to contribute to the Alison B. Parker Memorial Fund. According to the website, the money will go toward the university’s School of Media Arts and Design.
Parker graduated from JMU in 2012, where she was a reporter and editor for the student newspaper,The Breeze.
ROANOKE, Va. (AP) — They were two young journalists, eager and hungry for a story, fulfilling their dreams of working in TV news.
Reporter Alison Parker, 24, and cameraman Adam Ward, 27, grew up in the Roanoke, Virginia, area and started their television careers there, becoming local celebrities in the process and finding love along the way.
On Wednesday, the two were following their passion when they were gunned down by a disgruntled former reporter they once worked with at WDBJ. The shots rang out in the middle of a live story about the 50th anniversary of a reservoir known as Smith Mountain Lake. The attack was captured on Ward’s camera.
In their work, the broadcasters were “full of smiles and full of exuberance,” said Jeffrey Marks, general manager of the Roanoke station.
The pair worked as a team for the station’s “Mornin'” show, a time slot where many broadcast journalists get their start. They covered everything from breaking news to feature stories about child abuse.
Alison Parker and Adam Ward’s colleagues at TV station WDBJ saved their tears for off the air.
The news became personal for the CBS affiliate in Virginia when reporter Parker and cameraman Ward were fatally shot during a live broadcast Wednesday, forcing co-workers to balance the stunning tragedy with professionalism.
Their grief was evident during the newscasts that followed, but so was their restraint.
“This is a hard day for all of us here at WDBJ7. We are mourning Alison and Adam, but it is our job to find the facts,” anchorwoman Melissa Ganoa said during the 5 p.m. EDT newscast, less than 12 hours after the shooting by a fired station employee, Vester Flanagan, who died later of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
What unfolded was familiar to any TV viewer: A recounting of the crime; news conferences with updates from authorities, and reaction from those who knew the victims. A third person, a local chamber of commerce executive who was being interviewed by Parker, was shot and wounded.
The station in Virginia’s Roanoke-Lynchburg media market, however, left it other outlets to dwell on the footage from WDBJ’s unwitting broadcast of the shooting and, in a bleakly modern twist, apparent “selfie” video posted online by the alleged gunman.
An estimated 40,000 viewers saw it unfold live, untold numbers watched it afterward. The station received calls for interview requests from media outlets in Russia and Australia, among others.
MONETA, Va. (AP) — President Barack Obama says the fatal on-air shooting of two Virginia TV station employees is heartbreaking.
Obama says “it breaks my heart every time” he reads or hears about these kinds of incidents.
“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,” he said.