WDBJ editor watched tragedy unfold from unique perspective

VIRGINIA -- The sheriff's office in Franklin County, Virginia revealed Friday that Vester Flanagan II fired 17 rounds in his attack at a TV news crew Wednesday.

The medical examiner's officer said Alison Parker and Adam Ward died of gunshot wounds to the head and body. The shooting was seen on live television, but an editor at the station saw what viewers did not.

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WDBJ Editor Michael Episcopo.
CBS News

WDBJ editor Michael Episcopo was working behind the scenes Wednesday morning.

"I turned my head and then I heard gunfire," he said. "And by the time I snapped my head back up, Adam's camera bounced off the ground."

The 36-year-old saw what viewers at home did not, the live feed from Adam Ward's camera. It showed his watch, his hand not moving. Episcopo quickly rewound the tape, hoping he was wrong--that it wasn't gunfire. After watching again, he knew.

"I said, Adam's dead," he recalled. "I saw a figure. I saw sparks. And I saw this coward shoot him point blank."

He heard morning show producer Melissa Ott in the control room frantically trying to reach Ward -- her finance -- by phone.

"It quickly became 'Honey, that was scary, answer me. You have to answer me,'" Episcopo explained.

Then Ott headed toward the edit room.

"I said 'Stop right there.' She was walking toward me," Episcopo said. "And I still had the picture blown up of just his watch ticking."

Episcopo had also frozen the image of the man with the gun, a face he did not recognize at first. So he asked the chief photographer to take a look.

"I think his exact words were, 'That's a pretty big guy. Do you think that's Bryce?'"

Bryce Williams was the on-air name of Vester Flanagan, their former co-worker, who had been fired in 2013. Episcopo handed a copy of the tape to investigators.

"I knew Adam was gone because I saw it," Episcopo said. "And I had to look at it over and over again because it was my job to give a copy to police and give a copy to us and give a copy to our legal team. And I watched my friend die eight or nine times in a row."

Ward was a golfing buddy. And he called Parker a shining bright firework.

"That's what you remember. I'm not gonna remember a gutless coward gunning them down," he said. "No way."

Police caught up to Flanagan 200 miles from where the shooting occurred. They revealed today that they still don't know what his final plans were.

Vicki Gardner was the only survivor. Her condition is improving. On Friday, she was awake, alert and talking.