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Officials: Disgruntled Ex-Employee Shot Va. Reporter, Cameraman Dead On Air, Later Took Own Life

MONETA, Va. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- A CBS affiliate reporter and cameraman were shot and killed during a live television broadcast in central Virginia Wednesday, and the suspected gunman later died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

As CBS2's Lou Young reported from Roanoke, candles burned late Wednesday at the TV station the killer apparently wanted to punish.

Alison Parker, 24, and Adam Ward, 27, of WDBJ-TV, Roanoke, were shot and killed shortly after 6:45 a.m. while conducting an interview at the Bridgewater Plaza shopping mall in Moneta, said the station's general manager, Jeffrey A. Marks.

The killer apparently knew his victims would not see him coming. The reporter focused on her live interview at 6:46 a.m., while the cameraman focused on the viewfinder.

Parker was in the middle of a live interview for a feature story at the time of the shooting.

The video of the incident that was broadcast live shows Parker smiling during the interview when suddenly at least eight shots ring out. Parker screams, runs and can be heard saying, "Oh my God!''

Suspect In Killing Of WDBJ Reporter Alison Parker, Cameraman Adam Ward
This man was captured on video during the shooting of WDBJ reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward. (credit: WDBJ/Image rotated by

The station then switches back to a shot of an anchor back at the station, who appears shocked and says, "OK, not sure what happened there. We will of course let you know as soon as we find out what those sounds were from.''

"We heard screaming and then we heard nothing," Marks said.

Parker was interviewing Vicki Gardner of the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce when the shots rang out, WDBJ-TV said. An official with the chamber told The Roanoke Times newspaper reported that Gardner was shot in the back. She underwent surgery, is in stable condition and is expected to survive, Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital said. The hospital did not elaborate on the nature of her wounds.

Vicki Gardner
Vicki Gardner underwent surgery after being shot in the back Aug. 26, 2015, in Moneta, Va. (Credit: @visitvbr/Twitter)

Hours later, Vester Lee Flanagan II, 41, of Roanoke, fatally shot himself on Interstate 66 in Fauquier County, WDBJ reported. The suspect drove off the highway and crashed after suffering a self-inflicted gunshot wound, police said.

Minutes earlier, a state trooper tried to pull over Flanagan's car, but the suspect sped away, authorities said.

A law enforcement source told CBS News that Flanagan was airlifted to Inova Fairfax Hospital in Fairfax, Virginia, where he died at 1:26 p.m., about two hours after shooting himself, said Virginia Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran.

The suspect was believed to be a disgruntled former reporter of WDBJ. Federal and local authorities had been searching for him for hours before he shot himself, police said.

Flanagan used the name Bryce Williams on television.

Vester Flanagan
Vester Flanagan aka Bryce Williams (CBS News)

The entire Roanoke community was numb with shock and horror following the shooting.

"It was extremely difficult this morning. I actually did a remote with Ms. Parker and Adam about three years ago. It has really stopped me in my tracks this morning," said local sheriff's spokesman Bill Overton.

Parker and Ward's co-workers at WDBJ fought back tears as they confirmed the news of Parker and Ward's deaths Wednesday morning – compounded by the fact that they knew the presumed killer and the victims.

General manager Marks said employees recognized Flanagan in a chilling image caught by Ward's camera as it fell to the ground.

WDBJ was the last stop in a series of brief TV stints for Flanagan, 41 – in Odessa, Texas; Savannah; and Tallahassee before finally working in Roanoke.

Officials said they don't yet know a motive, and authorities said they don't know if the shooting was racially motivated. Flanagan was black and had formerly complained about racial bias at the station.

Someone using the name Bryce Williams posted video on social media that appears to show the actual shooting from the perspective of the gunman.

The posts also included accusations of racism against the reporter and conflict with the cameraman. The Facebook and Twitter accounts have since been suspended.

Social media sites moved fast to take the postings down.

Police told CBS2 Flanagan fled the scene after the shooting and switched cars before shooting himself while driving.

"Shortly before 11:30 a.m. this morning, Virginia State Police Trooper Pam Neff was on patrol and attempted to stop the vehicle. The driver of the Sonic – Vester Flanagan, also known as Bryce Williams, refused to stop and sped away from the trooper," Overton said. "It was only a minute or two later that the Sonic ran off the road into the median. Flanagan was flown from the scene to Inova Fairfax Hospital, where he died."

Meanwhile, ABC News reported it received a 23-page fax from someone claiming to be Bryce Williams.

ABC said Flanagan had called the network for weeks wanting to pitch a story, but never said what it was. The network received the fax at 8:26 a.m., nearly two hours after the shooting. Flanagan called again around 10 a.m. saying he had shot two people and that authorities were "after me." He then hung up.

The fax indicated the shootings were in response to the Charleston, South Carolina, church shooting in June, in which Dylann Roof, a white gunman who said he wanted to start a race war, fatally shot nine black people, police said.

"Why did I do it?" the fax read. "I put down a deposit for a gun on 6/19/15. The Church shooting in Charleston happened on 6/17/15.

"What sent me over the top was the church shooting.

"As for Dylann Roof? ... You want a race war ... ? BRING IT THEN."

ABC said it turned the fax over to authorities.

And law enforcement sources told CBS News that Flanagan purchased two Glock pistols legally on July 10 from a gun store in Roanoke. Investigators have been to the store.

Marks called the shooting senseless and horrifying.

"You can be in this business for 40 years and know that this kind of thing can happen and pray that it doesn't, and then when it hits, the shock is overwhelming," Marks told 1010 WINS. "Everybody in our building is just walking around in a daze. There's tears, there's hugging. These people were not liked; they were loved."

WDBJ General Manager Calls Shooting 'Senseless'

"All you can do is try to do your job, and for us doing the job is covering the news, getting it on while simultaneously mourning," Marks said. "It's really tough."

Marks described Flanagan as an "unhappy man" who the station fired over anger issues.

"We employed him as a reporter, and he had some talent in that respect and some experience, though he had been out of the business for a while when he was hired here. He quickly ... gathered a reputation as someone who was difficult to work with. He was sort of looking out for people to say things that he could take offense to, and eventually after many incidents of his anger coming to the fore, we dismissed him, and he did not take that well. We had to call the police to escort him from the building."

Flanagan was fired by WDBJ in 2013, and filed a lawsuit against the station the following year claiming "unpaid overtime, wrongful termination, retaliation, hostile work environment, racial harassment/discrimination." The lawsuit was later dismissed.

The court record on the lawsuit included a memo detailed Flanagan's termination from the station. The memo said when Flanagan – referred to by his Bryce Williams moniker in the memo – was told he was being fired he said: "You better call police because I'm going to make a big stink. This is not right."

At that point, management called police, while Flanagan claimed he was going to the bathroom but instead went to his desk and began taking personal things off, the memo said.

Management told the staff in the newsroom to leave, while Flanagan refused to leave the room, the memo said. Two police officers came into the room and "The officer began to take the phone and Bryce said, 'Take your hands off me. Leave me alone,'" the memo said.

The memo said Flanagan tossed a hat and a small wooden cross at his boss and said, "You need this," and claimed to the officers that he had been a victim of racism at the station, the memo said. Another WDBJ memo in the court filing said that anyone who sees Flanagan on company property should call 911 immediately.

Flanagan also sued a former employer, WTWC in Tallahassee, Fla., for racial discrimination in 2000, CBS News reported. He claimed he was "the victim of retaliation thereafter" after complaining about the alleged discrimination.

Flanagan's family issued a statement late Wednesday.

"Our thoughts and prayers at this time are with the victims' families and the WBDJ7 News family," the statement said. "Words cannot express the hurt we feel for the victims."

Flanagan's victims were both at the start of their careers and lives.

Late Wednesday, there were prayers for the dead outside the WDBJ studios. Many were stunned by the double murder that in some cases, they watched on TV.

"I hear the 'pow, pow, pow;' I hear her screaming, the cameraman falling and then her feet, her shoes and she's still screaming," said Betty Bruce of Roanoke.

Bruce had watched Parker on television and the shooting hit close to home for her.

"I tell you, it's something I don't want to see again," she said.

According to the WDBJ website, Parker was a morning reporter. She graduated from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and was news editor of its recognized newspaper, The Breeze. She also had been an intern at WDBJ-TV.

As CBS2's Jessica Schneider reported, Parker's colleagues called her a "rock star." She grew up just outside Roanoke and said on Facebook that she treasured her family. She said in a past video clip that she took pride in her family's passion for the arts. Her mother worked for the Piedmont Arts Center in Martinsville, Virginia, while her father once appeared on Broadway.

She also enjoyed whitewater kayaking, which she said was "something my family does all the time."

"Alison was at the beginning of what was going to be a fabulous career," Marks said. "She was a natural as a reporter and a performer on the air. There wasn't an assignment she would turn up her nose at. She was just a wonderful journalist."

Parker previously worked at WCTI NewsChannel 12 in Jacksonville, North Carolina, near Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. She was an avid kayaker and attended community theater events in her spare time.

"Today we received news that no family should ever hear. Our vivacious, ambitious, smart, engaging, hilarious, beautiful, and immensely talented Alison taken from the world," the Parker family said in a statement. "This is senseless and our family is crushed."

Alison Parker's father, Andy, told The Washington Post his wife learned about the shooting through a text message from the TV station.

Moneta Virginia Shooting
Police work the crime scene at Bridgewater Plaza on Smith Mountain Lake on Aug. 26, 2015, in Moneta, Virginia. Two employees of WDBJ-TV were killed during a live broadcast. (Credit: Jay Paul/Getty Images)

"My grief is unbearable," said Andy Parker, of Martinsville, Virginia. "Is this real? Am I going to wake up? I am crying my eyes out. I don't know if there's anybody in this world or another father who could be more proud of their daughter.

"I am not going to watch (video of the shooting)," he added. "I can't watch it. I can't watch any news. All it would do is rip out my heart out further than it already it is."

Parker had been dating WDBJ-TV anchor Chris Hurst, who said they were very much in love, had just moved in together and wanted to get married.

"I am numb," Hurst said on Twitter.

"I had a habit of always wanting her to text me when she got to work safely, and she did so. The last thing that she said to me was, 'Goodnight, sweet boy,' and the next thing I know, I wake up to a phone call from the station a little after 7 o'clock telling me that there had been a shooting that happened live on television," Hurst later added.

Ward also grew up in the Roanoke area and put together a résumé tape five years ago while interning at the station, and landed a job as a photographer there four years ago.

He was engaged to a producer at the station, Melissa Ott, who was in the control room watching as the shooting happened. Ott was marking her last day at the station before moving on to a job in North Carolina, and Ward was expected to join her.

"Adam was our go-to guy. He pretty much was available to do anything that we asked,'' said WDBJ spokesman Mike Morgan. "He did live shots during our morning show for several years.''

"Adam was the kind of employee who didn't have to be asked to do something extra," Marks said. "If he saw that something needed to happen, he just took care of it, whether he was on-duty or off-duty. His attitude was always fabulous."

"I cannot tell you how much they were loved, Alison and Adam, by the WDBJ7 team," Marks said. "Our hearts are broken."

CBS2's Young described the atmosphere in the WDBJ newsroom late Wednesday afternoon.

"They do their jobs and they answer phone calls and then you see tears," Young said. "They knew these people, and it is a huge gaping loss and an inexplicable development to them."

Moneta is about 25 miles southeast of Roanoke. Nearby schools were placed on lockdown following the shooting, CBS News reported.

As a precaution, the NYPD stepped up patrols at New York City media outlets Wednesday.

"Out of an abundance of caution the NYPD's Counterterrorism Bureau, Critical Response Vehicles and Hercules Teams have been deployed to television news outlets in New York City," John J. Miller, deputy commissioner for counterterrorism and intelligence, said in a statement. "While there is no indication of any threat to media outlets beyond this incident, we have provided an additional layer of security until we have a fuller understanding of the motive behind the Virginia incident."

The killings drew reaction from prominent figures around the country, including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

"My heart goes out to all those impacted by the shooting that took place this morning near Moneta, Virginia," Cuomo said in a statement. "Like all of you, I am shocked and saddened by the senseless murder of two members of the media who were doing nothing more than their jobs.

"This morning's tragedy is the latest in seemingly endless, painful reminders that we must confront the rampant gun violence in our communities," the governor added.

The New York Press Club also extended its condolences to Parker and Ward's families, friends and co-workers.

The club's president, Steve Scott, issued a statement Wednesday on behalf of its 300 members, saying Parker and Ward were young and ``full of life,'' with bright futures.

He said they died serving their viewing public.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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