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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

(Reuters) — Two television journalists were shot and killed in Virginia on Wednesday in an attack during a live early-morning broadcast, and authorities said the suspected gunman was a former employee of the TV station.

The suspect, 41-year-old Vester Flanagan, shot and wounded himself several hours later as police pursued him on a Virginia highway, police said.

The two journalists who were killed were reporter Alison Parker, 24, and cameraman, Adam Ward, 27, who worked for CBS affiliate WDBJ7 in Roanoke, Virginia. The woman they were interviewing was wounded in the shooting.

Police said Flanagan was in life-threatening condition.

The on-air shooting occurred at about 6:45 a.m. EDT (1045 GMT) during an interview for the morning news program at Bridgewater Plaza, a Smith Mountain Lake recreation site with restaurants, shops, boating and arcades and holiday rentals.

The area is in the south-central part of the state, about 120 miles (190 km) from the capital of Richmond.

The broadcast was abruptly interrupted by the sound of shots as Parker and the woman being interviewing screamed and ducked for cover.

Hours after the shooting, someone claiming to have filmed it posted video online that appeared to be from shooter’s vantage point.

The videos were posted to a Twitter account and on Facebook by a man identifying himself as Bryce Williams, which was Flanagan’s on-air name.

The videos were removed shortly afterward. One video clearly showed a handgun as the person filming approached the woman reporter.

WDBJ7 reported that Flanagan was a former employee who was let go two years ago.

The station reported that Flanagan shot himself as Virginia State Police were closing in on his rental car on Interstate 66 in Fauquier County. He was driving a rental car after leaving his own car at the Roanoke–Blacksburg Regional Airport this morning, the station reported.


In a statement, Virginia state police said the suspect refused to stop when spotted by a trooper and sped away.

“Minutes later, the suspect’s vehicle ran off the road and crashed. The troopers approached the vehicle and found the male driver suffering from a gunshot wound,” police said in the statement.

“He is being transported to a nearby hospital for treatment of life-threatening injuries. The male driver is believed to be the same male subject who shot three people this morning in Franklin County during a television news interview,” police said.

Asked on CNN if the station had been targeted or had been threatened, WDBJ7 President and General Manager Jeff Marks said, “Every now and then you get a crazy email or something and we’ll look into it. Nothing of this nature than any of us could recall.”

He said the interview was to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of Smith Mountain Lake, and the woman being interviewed was from the local chamber of commerce. She had been talking about the anniversary and tourism.

There was no word yet from the hospital on the condition of the woman, identified as Vicki Gardner, executive director of the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce.

The station’s broadcast showed Parker interviewing Gardner about the lake and tourism development in the area. Gunshots erupted, and as Ward fell his camera hit the ground but kept running. An image caught on camera showed what appeared to be a man in dark clothing facing the camera with a weapon in his right hand.

The station described the two dead journalists as an ambitious reporter-and-cameraman team who often filmed light and breezy feature stories for the morning program.

“I cannot tell you how much they were loved,” Marks said.

Parker grew up in Martinsville and attended Patrick Henry Community College and James Madison University, while Ward graduated from Salem High School and Virginia Tech, the station said.

They were both engaged to be married to other people.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based non-profit press freedom group, condemned the on-air killings.

This year, at least 39 journalists have been killed around the world, with the deadliest countries being France, South Sudan and Syria. “We do know that being a journalist is potentially dangerous anywhere in the world,” the group’s senior Americas program coordinator, Carlos Lauria, said in a statement.

(Reporting by Emily Flitter, Laila Kearney and Barbara Goldberg in New York and Ian Simpson in Washington; Writing by Frances Kerry; Editing by Scott Malone and Jeffrey Benkoe)

Photo: Alison Parker and Adam Ward, via WDBJ Television.