Former co-worker kills Virginia TV reporter, photographer live on air

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A disgruntled former TV journalist shot and killed a reporter and photographer during a live broadcast and led police on a pursuit before shooting himself, authorities said.

WDBJ-TV reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward were covering a feature story on tourism when they were fatally shot. The Franklin County Sheriff's Office says the attack happened around 6:43 a.m. Wednesday during a live broadcast at Bridgewater Plaza near Smith Mountain Lake in Franklin County, Va.

Video of the attack showed Parker smiling, and then at least eight shots were heard. The camera dropped to the ground, and the reporter was heard screaming.

Both Parker and Ward died at the scene. The woman being interview, Vicki Gardner, was also wounded in the shooting. She was transported to the hospital where she is being treated for non-life threatening injuries.

The gunman was identified as 41-year-old Vester Lee Flanagan II. He was a former co-worker of the journalists at the Roanoke television station and went by the name, Bryce Williams, as a reporter on the air. 

The sheriff's office says Flanagan fled the area of the shooting before deputies arrived.

His 2009 Ford Mustang at recovered as evidence by authorities at Roanoke Regional Airport shortly before 11 a.m. The sheriff's office says it was discovered that Flanagan left the airport days earlier in a rented Chevrolet Sonic.

Flanagan was later located driving that vehicle along Interstate 66 in Fauquier County, Va., by a Virginia State Police trooper before 11:30 a.m. after her license plate reader alerted her to the vehicle traveling in the area.

After requesting backup from others, the trooper attempted to initiate a traffic stop but Flanagan refused to stop and sped away. He would soon run off the roadway and go into the median.

When troopers approached the vehicle, they found him suffering from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was flown to Inova Fairfax Hospital where he later died.

PHOTO GALLERY: Suspect crashes vehicle in Fauquier County

Chilling video of the shooting was posted on the Twitter account and Facebook page of someone under the name Bryce Williams. The video showed an outstretched arm holding the handgun and firing repeatedly at Parker as she tried to run away. 

Flanagan's planning may have started weeks ago when, ABC News said, a man claiming to be Bryce Williams called repeatedly, saying he wanted to pitch a story and needed fax information. He sent ABC's newsroom a 23-page fax two hours after the 6:45 a.m. shooting that was part-manifesto, part-suicide note -- calling himself a gay black man who had been mistreated by people of all races, and saying he bought the gun two days after nine black people were killed in a June 17 shooting at a Charleston church. The fax also included admiration for the gunmen in mass killings at places like Virginia Tech and Columbine High School in Colorado.

He described himself as a "human powder keg," that was "just waiting to go BOOM!!!!"

Jeffrey Marks, general manger of WDBJ, talked briefly on air about Flanagan. Marks says the man had a reputation of being difficult to work with and being on the lookout for people to say things he could take offense to. 

Marks says: "Eventually, after many incidents of his anger coming to the fore, we dismissed him. He did not take that well."

Marks says that when Flanagan was fired in 2013, police had to escort him from the building.

Marks said that Flanagan alleged that other employees made racially-tinged comments to him and that he filed a complaint with the EEOC. But Marks says the allegations couldn't be corroborated. He says the claim was dismissed. 

Officials said they don't know if the shooting was racially motivated.

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Parker, 24, grew up in Martinsville, Va., the station's website said. She attended Patrick Henry Community College and James Madison University. Ward, 27, attended Salem High School and Virginia Tech.

Chris Hurst, a WDBJ-TV anchor, tweeted that he and Parker were in a relationship, though they didn't share that information publicly. Hurst tweeted that they were, "very much in love. We just moved in together. I am numb." 

"We were together almost nine months," Hurst tweeted. "It was the best nine months of our lives. We wanted to get married. We just celebrated her 24th birthday."

One of the station's morning producers was engaged to Ward. She was in the control room during the last day on the job when the shooting happened. Ward was planning to follow her to her new job in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Parker's family released a statement saying, "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. This is senseless and our family is crushed."

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U.S. Senator Tim Kaine released the following statement on the attack: 

“There are no words to express how heartbroken I am by the senseless tragedy in Moneta this morning. My deepest sympathies go out to the loved ones of Alison Parker and Adam Ward, as well as the entire WDBJ family. I ask everyone to join me in praying for Vicki Gardner who was seriously injured in this attack and all of the local authorities and first responders who are working to find the perpetrator of this horrific crime.”

WDBJ is based in Roanoke. The station serves the southwest and central part of the state. The shooting happened in Moneta, which is about 25 miles southwest of Roanoke. 


The Associated Press contributed to this report.