Suspect in TV journalist murders dies after shooting self
HARDY, Va. — Vester L. Flanagan II, who police say killed two WDBJ-TV journalists while they were on air, died at a hospital Wednesday afternoon of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Franklin County, Virginia, Sheriff Bill Overton told reporters.
Flanagan, a former WDBJ reporter, killed two of the Roanoke TV station’s employees, Alison Parker and Adam Ward, live on air before fleeing in a gray 2009 Ford Mustang to Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport. There, he ditched the Mustang and drove away in a Chevrolet Sonic that he had rented earlier this month, Overton told reporters.
Just before 11:30 a.m., Virginia State Police saw Flanagan’s car headed east on Interstate 66. With emergency lights activated, a trooper initiated a traffic stop, police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said.
The driver refused to stop and sped away before running off the road and crashing, Geller told CNN. Troopers found the driver inside. He had suffered a gunshot wound. He was transported to a nearby hospital, Geller said.
Authorities tracked Flanagan’s cell phone to locate him, according to federal officials and the Augusta County Sheriff’s Department.
Flanagan was a reporter at WDBJ for about a year using the on-air name, Bryce Williams, according to a former WDBJ employee. He was fired from the station, though the reason was not made public, the ex-employee said.
“Two years ago, we had to separate him from the company. We did understand that he was still living in the area,” WDBJ General Manager Jeff Marks said.
Shocking morning broadcast
During the live broadcast around 6:45 a.m., TV viewers saw the camera fall to the ground and caught the briefest glimpse of a man who appeared to point a gun toward the downed cameraman. The gunman is believed to have fired six or seven times, Marks said.
The station cut away to a shocked anchor, Kimberly McBroom, back in the studio.
Parker, 24, and Ward, 27, were killed at Bridgewater Plaza, the station reported later.
The woman being interviewed, Vicki Gardner, executive director of the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce, was shot in the back, said Barb Nocera, the chamber’s special projects manager.
Gardner is recovering from emergency surgery and is in stable condition, according to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital in Roanoke.
Ward’s fiancée was in the control room and saw the shooting, Marks, the station’s general manager, told CNN.
Though Marks has heard that Flanagan had leveled accusations in the past, he said, “I don’t think Alison and that individual even overlapped here.”
Marks added he was not exaggerating when he says that Parker and Ward were “the kindest and nicest people who worked here. … I can’t figure out any connection.”
According to tweets from the Bryce Williams account, Alison had “made racist comments,” while “Adam went to hr on me after working with me one time!!!” There was no elaboration, and CNN was unable to confirm immediately if either claim was true.
Dan Dennison, however, told CNN affiliate KHNL in Honolulu that he was the news director who hired Flanagan at WBDJ in 2012 and then fired him the following year, mostly for performance issues. Dennison did not want to share too many details of the firing but said it was the toughest termination decision he’d ever handled and police had to be called to escort Flanagan out of the building.
“(Flanagan) had a level of a long series of complaints against co-workers nearly from the beginning of employment at the TV station,” said Dennison, who is spokesman for the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.
“That really had nothing to do with his termination, and after a lot of investigation both internally and externally, all of these allegations were deemed to be unfounded. And they were largely under, along racial lines, and we did a thorough investigation and could find no evidence that anyone had racially discriminated against this man,” he said.
Parker a ‘rock star’
“Our hearts are broken,” Marks said. “We have people walking around here in tears, lots of hugs.”
McBroom described Parker as a “rock star” and said, “You throw anything at that girl and she could do it.”
Another journalist at the anchor’s desk said Ward was engaged to be married to morning show producer at WDBJ, Melissa Ott, and Ward recently told her, “I’m going to get out of news. I think I’m going to do something else.”
Ward joined WDBJ in 2011 after graduating from Virginia Tech with a degree in communication and media studies, according to his Facebook page. He began attending the university in 2007, a few months after a gunman went on a deadly rampage, leaving 32 people dead.
In April, days before the eighth anniversary of the campus massacre, Ward changed his Facebook profile photo to an image of the Virginia Tech logo with a black ribbon.
The school said in a statement, “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.”
Added one of Ward’s professors, Robert Denton, “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.”
Parker was the morning reporter for the Roanoke station and a native of Virginia, having spent most of her life outside Martinsville.
She joined WDBJ last year after completing a summer internship as a news reporter in 2012.
Parker previously worked with another CNN affiliate, WCTI-TV, in Jacksonville, North Carolina, near Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. She was a graduate of James Madison University’s School of Media Arts and Design in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
“Today we received news that no family should ever hear. Our vivacious, ambitious, smart, engaging, hilarious, beautiful, and immensely talented Alison (was) taken from the world. This is senseless and our family is crushed,” Parker’s family said in a statement.
Boyfriend describes himself as ‘numb’
Chris Hurst, a reporter for the station, tweeted that he and Parker “were very much in love” and had just moved in together after dating nine months, “the best nine months of our lives. We wanted to get married. We just celebrated her 24th birthday.”
He continued, “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.”
Hurst described himself as “numb.”
Parker and Ward worked together every day, Hurst tweeted. “They were a team. I am heartbroken for his fiancee,” he wrote.
“You know, you send people into war zones, you send people into dangerous situations and into riots, and you worry that they are going to get hurt. You send somebody out to do a story on tourism and — how can you expect something like this to happen?” Marks told CNN.
A local pastor, “a friend of the newsroom,” is at the station, consoling Parker’s and Ward’s co-workers, he said.