February 8, 2023

Live-TV shooting suspect pronounced dead at hospital

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10268678_791350600888780_7176053667409035366_nBy Jaime Fuller From New York Magazine

Twenty-four-year-old WDBJ7 reporter Alison Parker and 27-year-old cameraman Adam Ward were killed during a live-TV broadcast at Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia on Wednesday morning.

Police quickly began searching for a suspect, former WDBJ7 reporter Vester Lee Flanagan, known professionally as Bryce Williams. Forty-one-year-old Flanagan shot himself after a police officer approached him on I-66 in Fauquier County in northern Virginia. He was transported to a hospital, and pronounced dead around 1:30 p.m., Sheriff Bill Overton announced at a press conference on the incident Wednesday afternoon.

Overton added that he had done an interview with Parker and Ward only three weeks ago. “It really stopped me in my tracks this morning, like many viewers I was watching this morning’s broadcast and couldn’t understand really what was happening.”

ABC News reported that it received a fax from someone claiming to be named Bryce Williams shortly after the shooting; he called around 10 a.m. to follow up, noting his legal name was Vester Lee Flanagan and that he had just shot two people. While on the phone, he told ABC News that the police were after him and “all over the place.” The outlet then sent the 23-page document to the authorities — and later posted excerpts online. In the document, which ABC News called “rambling,” Flanagan notes he has been attacked for being a gay, black man and that “[w]hat sent [him] over the top was the [Charleston] church shooting.”

“Why did I do it? I put down a deposit for a gun on 6/19/15,” the fax begins, according to ABC News. “The Church shooting in Charleston happened on 6/17/15 … As for Dylann Roof? You (deleted)! You want a race war (deleted)? BRING IT THEN YOU WHITE …(deleted)!!!”

He adds that he was a “human powder keg for a while … just waiting to go BOOM!!!!” The alleged gunman also praised the Virginia Tech and Columbine shooters, and said he had been spurred to action by Jehovah.

Flanagan was fired from the station two years ago after working there a year. Graphic videos of the shooting were posted on Facebook and Twitter accounts registered under the name Bryce Williams — both accounts have been suspended. “I filmed the shooting see Facebook,” read one tweet.

Vicki Gardner, the executive director of the local Chamber of Commerce, was being interviewed for a light segment on local tourism and was shot in the back. She had surgery this morning and is in stable condition.

“The scene was described to us as chaos,” WDBJ7 general manager Jeffrey Marks said when breaking the news on TV this morning.

This afternoon, Marks described Flanagan as “an unhappy man,” who “quickly gathered a reputation as someone who was difficult to work with,” during a WDBJ7 segment on the shooting. Marks said Flanagan, who is black, “filed an action with the Equal Opportunity Employment Committee” about “racial comments” made by the staff; “none of them could be corroborated by anyone,” he said. “We think they were fabricated.”

“Eventually,” he added, according to the New York Times, “after many incidents of his anger coming to the fore, we dismissed him. He did not take that well, and we had to call the police to escort him from the building.”

This morning, the Tallahasse Democrat republished a story from 2000 about a racial discrimination lawsuit Flanagan filed against WTWC-TV in Florida. According to the report, Flanagan said that “he and another black employee were referred to as ‘monkeys’ and that a supervisor once told him that ‘blacks are lazy and do not take advantage of free money’ for scholarships and economic opportunities.” The story went on to describe several more alleged incidents.

Flanagan was fired shortly after; the station told the Democrat that his position would not be refilled and that they were reducing the size of the staff due to budget constraints. According to The Guardian, “[t]he lawsuit reached federal court in Florida. According to public records it was settled out of court in 2001.”

The NYPD increased security at local TV stations in New York City this morning after the shooting.

After the shooting, WDBJ7 had to quickly pivot to covering the tragedy, and crying could be heard on TV from the studio. The incident happened around 6:45 a.m.; eight gunshots were heard before the camera dropped to the ground.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said this afternoon at a press briefing that “obviously the thoughts and prayers of everybody here at the White House are with the families of those who were injured and killed.” He added, “while there is no piece of legislation that will end all violence, there are some common-sense things that only Congress can do … that would not infringe on the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans,” and also have “a tangible impact on reducing gun violence in this country.”

Before this morning, only six journalists had been killed in the U.S. since 1992.

Ward’s fiancée, Melissa Ott, worked at the station as a morning producer, and was in the control room watching when the shooting happened. It was her last day working there; Parker had brought her balloons to celebrate this morning before going out to report, according to ABC News. Ward was planning on following Ott when she moved to her new job in Charlotte — and was reportedly thinking of trying a career outside of journalism, according to The Guardian.

Parker’s boyfriend worked at WDBJ7, too; he has been tweeting out memories of her.

Parker graduated from James Madison University in December 2012; according to a bio of her on the website for WCTI in North Carolina, where she used to work, Parker loved to “whitewater kayak, see Broadway musicals, watch Jeopardy! and try new things.” One anchor at the station called her a “rockstar” — “You throw anything at that girl and she could do it.”

Ward graduated from Virginia Tech in 2011. “He proved himself to be just a fine photojournalist,” Marks said, according to The Guardian, “and the kind of guy who [when he] was on his way home from work and heard about something breaking, he would just turn around and go do it.”

Both grew up in the area where they reported, and worked together frequently.

For more on this story go to: http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2015/08/reporter-and-photographer-killed-on-live-tv.html?om_rid=AACMTw&om_mid=_BV3hFjB9E3eH0O

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