Murders of Alison Parker and Adam Ward

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Murders of Alison Parker and Adam Ward
Moneta is located in Virginia
Moneta
Moneta
Moneta is located in the US
Moneta
Moneta
Location Bridgewater Plaza
Moneta, Virginia, U.S.
Coordinates 37°08′36″N 79°40′13″W / 37.14330°N 79.67027°W / 37.14330; -79.67027Coordinates: 37°08′36″N 79°40′13″W / 37.14330°N 79.67027°W / 37.14330; -79.67027
Date August 26, 2015 (2015-08-26)
Shooting: 6:46 a.m.
Manhunt 6:46 a.m. – c. 11:30 a.m. (EDT)
Target Alison Parker and Adam Ward
Attack type
Murder–suicide
Weapons Glock 19 9mm pistol[1][2][3]
Deaths 3 (including the perpetrator)
Non-fatal injuries
1
Perpetrator Vester Lee Flanagan II (aka Bryce Williams)
Motive Perceived workplace animosity, supposed revenge for the Charleston church shooting[4]

News reporter Alison Parker and photojournalist Adam Ward, employees of CBS affiliate WDBJ in Roanoke, Virginia, United States, were fatally shot on August 26, 2015, while conducting a live television interview near Smith Mountain Lake in Moneta. The news team was interviewing Vicki Gardner, executive director of the local chamber of commerce, when all three were attacked by a gunman. Parker, age 24, and Ward, age 27, died at the scene while Gardner survived.[5][6]

The gunman was 41-year-old Vester Lee Flanagan II, also known by the professional pseudonym of Bryce Williams, a former reporter at WDBJ. The station fired him for disruptive conduct in 2013.[7] After a manhunt that lasted for almost five hours, he shot himself during a car chase with police officers and died later at a hospital.[8][9][10]

Events[edit]

Murders[edit]

Parker and Ward were conducting a live interview with Gardner at Bridgewater Plaza in Moneta, Virginia, about upcoming events for the 50th anniversary of Smith Mountain Lake, located 26 miles (42 km) southeast of Roanoke. The shooting occurred at 6:46 a.m. Eastern Time in the middle of the segment, which was broadcast on WDBJ's morning news program, Mornin'. Video of the incident showed Parker conducting the interview, before at least eight gunshots were heard, followed by screams. Ward's camera fell to the ground, briefly capturing the image of Flanagan holding a Glock 19 9mm pistol.[1][2]

WDBJ production master control operators then switched back to Mornin' anchor Kimberly McBroom at the station's news studio, seemingly confused by what had just happened. She later said she believed the noises could have been a car backfiring or shots being fired in the background.[11]

Immediate aftermath[edit]

Parker and Ward died at the scene. Gardner was also shot, but survived following surgery at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital.[12][13][14][15] According to the state medical examiner's office, Parker died from gunshot wounds to her head and chest, while Ward died from shots to his head and torso.[16] Gardner was shot in the back after she curled up into a fetal position in an attempt to play dead.[17][18] A total of 15 shots were fired during the shooting.[19]

After reviewing video of the incident from Ward's fallen camera, staff in the WDBJ newsroom identified Flanagan as the likely gunman. They alerted the station's general manager, Jeffrey Marks, who passed the information to the county sheriff.[20] At 8:23 a.m., Flanagan faxed ABC News and then phoned shortly after 10:00 a.m., making a confession.[21] During the ensuing manhunt, authorities tracked Flanagan's cell phone to locate him.[22]

After abandoning his Ford Mustang at Roanoke–Blacksburg Regional Airport, Flanagan drove a rented Chevrolet Sonic north on I-81, then east on I-66. An automated license plate reader in a Virginia state trooper's car identified the rented Sonic at 11:20 a.m. The trooper called for backup and attempted to initiate a traffic stop, but Flanagan sped away. After a pursuit of less than two miles, Flanagan's car ran off the side of the road and struck an embankment near Markham.[23] Flanagan was found inside the car with gunshot wounds,[9] which were apparently self-inflicted while he was driving.[24] He was airlifted to Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church, Virginia, where he was declared dead at 1:26 p.m.[10][25][26]

Victims[edit]

Parker and Ward, from WDBJ7's Twitter account

Alison Parker (August 19, 1991 – August 26, 2015) grew up in Martinsville, Virginia, and attended Patrick Henry Community College and James Madison University. She interned at WDBJ in 2012, worked as a general assignment news reporter at ABC affiliate WCTI-TV in New Bern, North Carolina from December of that year until May 2014,[27] and then was hired by WDBJ in 2014 as a correspondent for Mornin'.[4][28] Parker was in a relationship with Chris Hurst, an evening news anchor/reporter at the station, with whom she had just moved in; the two had been dating for nine months prior to the shooting.[29][30]

Adam Ward (May 10, 1988 – August 26, 2015) grew up in Salem, Virginia, and graduated from Virginia Tech with a degree in communications and media studies in 2011. He had worked at the station since July of that year, as a videographer as well as an occasional sports reporter.[31][32] At the time of his death, he was engaged to WDBJ producer Melissa Ott, who was to leave WDBJ on the day of the shooting for a job at ABC affiliate WSOC-TV in Charlotte, North Carolina.[29][33]

Vicki Gardner, the interviewee, survived a gunshot wound to the back. Originally from Union Springs, New York, she has been the executive director of the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce since 2002.[34] After undergoing surgery, in which her kidney and part of her colon were removed,[17] Gardner was released from the hospital on September 8, 2015.[17]

Perpetrator[edit]

Vester Lee Flanagan
Born Vester Lee Flanagan II
(1973-10-08)October 8, 1973[35]
Oakland, California, U.S.
Died August 26, 2015(2015-08-26) (aged 41)
Falls Church, Virginia, U.S.
Cause of death Self-inflicted gunshot wounds
Residence Roanoke, Virginia, U.S.
Nationality American
Other names Bryce Williams
Education San Francisco State University
Occupation Television news journalist; former model

Personal background[edit]

Vester Lee Flanagan II (October 8, 1973 – August 26, 2015), known professionally as Bryce Williams, was identified as the perpetrator. A native of Oakland, California, Flanagan graduated from Skyline High School and attended San Francisco State University, earning a degree in radio and television in 1995. He interned at CBS affiliate KPIX in San Francisco in 1993, eventually working there as a production assistant and weekend news writer.[36] Before beginning his journalism career, he was a small-time actor and model.[37] From February 1997 to March 1999, Flanagan worked as a general assignment news reporter at CBS affiliate WTOC-TV in Savannah, Georgia.[38]

Between March 1999 and March 2000, Flanagan worked as a reporter for NBC affiliate WTWC-TV in Tallahassee, Florida. Flanagan later reported to the station's then-news director, Don Shafer, that coworkers were making offensive comments about his sexual orientation. In an interview with the Daily Mail, former WTWC sports reporter Dave Leval said Flanagan verbally abused two female staffers at the station on different occasions after they pointed out mistakes in his reporting, and several photographers tried to get out of working on stories to which Flanagan was assigned due to his "diva" behavior.[39][40][41]

After losing his job for "odd behavior" in March 2000, Flanagan, who was African-American, filed a civil lawsuit against WTWC alleging racial discrimination. The lawsuit was later settled under unspecified terms in January 2001. WTWC's news operation itself had been discontinued by the station's owner, Sinclair Broadcast Group, earlier in November 2000 due to poor ratings and budget reductions.[42] Flanagan later worked for CBS affiliate WNCT-TV in Greenville, North Carolina from 2002 to 2004.[38][42] He also found some work at ABC affiliate KMID in Midland, Texas.[19]

Tenure at WDBJ[edit]

WDBJ announced their hiring of Flanagan, using the professional name Bryce Williams, as a multimedia journalist on April 19, 2012.[43] Documents relating to Flanagan's time at WDBJ suggest the station's management considered him to be an experienced reporter, but there were conflicts with other reporters and with photographers.[44] Office memos from WDBJ showed that in July 2012, Dan Dennison, the station's then-news director, ordered Flanagan to contact Health Advocate after complaints that coworkers were "feeling threatened or uncomfortable" while working with him.[45] It was unclear if Flanagan did so prior to his dismissal.[46]

Flanagan was dismissed by WDBJ on February 1, 2013, because of his volatile behavior. According to a former colleague, Flanagan lashed out at newsroom staffers after learning of his firing, resulting in the staffers being put in a room while police escorted Flanagan out of the building. Ward was said to have recorded Flanagan as he was escorted out and had a confrontation with him that day. Flanagan allegedly threw a wooden cross at Dennison, saying "You need this."[47] WDBJ provided security to the staffers for a time after the incident, and directed them to call 9-1-1 if he ever returned to the station.[44][48][49] Flanagan filed an EEOC complaint against WDBJ, alleging racial discrimination. He allegedly named Parker in his complaint. Following an investigation, the EEOC dismissed the complaint as uncorroborated.[42][50][51] A suicide note written later by Flanagan said, after the incident, he killed both of his cats out of rage.[52][53][54]

Following his dismissal, Flanagan got a job at a local UnitedHealth Group call center. He had a confrontation with a female employee who casually pointed out how quiet he was being, to which he responded aggressively, telling her to never talk to him again.[55] One of Flanagan's neighbors in his apartment complex described him as an arrogant person who acted rudely towards people around him. He was noted for sometimes throwing cat feces at the homes of neighbors with whom he had disputes.[46]

Shooting and motives[edit]

Flanagan maintained accounts on Facebook and Twitter, which were suspended after he was named as a suspect in the shooting. On both profiles, he repeated his claims of racial discrimination by WDBJ, specifically naming Parker and Ward. Flanagan claimed that, while working with Parker during her internship at WDBJ, she had made a coded racist remark regarding a friend who lived on Cotton Hill Road (an existing street that runs to the southwest of Starkey in southern Roanoke County), and that Ward had filed a complaint against him to WDBJ's human resources department after working with him on one occasion.[56]

At 11:14 a.m. on the day of the shooting, Flanagan uploaded a 56-second phone camera video, shot from a first-person perspective of the incident, to his Twitter and Facebook accounts before they were suspended.[57][58] The video shows Flanagan walking up to the scene of the live interview, and brandishing a handgun for approximately 15 seconds without Ward, Parker, or Gardner noticing; Gardner later said she had been blinded by the television lighting.[59] He mutters "bitch" while pointing the weapon at Parker, and lowers the gun before raising it again and opening fire directly at Parker. Parker flinches and screams before attempting to escape the attack, with the light of Ward's camera being seen quickly dropping before Flanagan pulls the camera away and shuts it off.[60][61][62] Flanagan appeared to wait until the television news camera was pointed at Parker before opening fire, to ensure the incident was shown live on-air.[63][64]

Two hours after the shooting at 8:26 a.m., ABC News received a 23-page fax allegedly sent by Flanagan.[65] In the fax, titled "Suicide Note for Friend & Family", he described his grievances over what he alleged to be racial discrimination and sexual harassment committed by black men and white women in his workplace, believing he was targeted because he was a homosexual black man.[9][21][66] Flanagan claimed to have been provoked by the Charleston church shooting two months before and made threatening comments about Dylann Roof, the perpetrator of that crime.[61] He described the church shooting as a "tipping point ... but my anger has been building steadily ... I've been a human powder keg for a while ... just waiting to go BOOM!!!!"[9] Franklin County Sheriff's Office said he "very closely identified" with "individuals who have committed domestic acts of violence and mass murder, as well as the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S."[67] He said Jehovah had told him to act and expressed an admiration for Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who together perpetrated the Columbine High School massacre; and Seung-Hui Cho, the perpetrator of the Virginia Tech shooting.[21][68] Flanagan said in the note, "Yeah I'm all fucked up in the head."[69]

After Flanagan's death, officers searched his rental car and found various items, including a Glock pistol with several magazines and ammunition, a white iPhone, letters, notes, a "to-do" list, a suitcase containing three license plates, and several disguises including a wig.[46][70]

Aftermath[edit]

Reactions[edit]

U.S. President Barack Obama said he was heartbroken over the murders.[71] Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe said on Twitter that he was heartbroken over the shooting and reasserted his support for gun control.[26] He later made calls for tougher gun laws in the state and blamed the state legislature for failing to pass a package of gun control measures he proposed earlier in January.[72] His remarks drew criticism from Republicans, who said he was politicizing the tragedy.[70] Virginia Senator Mark Warner gave his condolences to Parker and Ward's families, as well as WDBJ and the first responders involved.[26]

In a series of interviews following the shooting, Alison Parker's father, Andy Parker, said he would become an advocate on the issue of gun violence prevention (comparing it to John Walsh's advocacy of crime prevention), as well as speak with politicians and news outlets to address issues of mental health and improving care for those with mental illnesses. Parker – who himself ran as a Democratic candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates in 2007, but was not elected – challenged politicians to enact legislation to strengthen laws to curb gun violence. His comments were made against pressure from the National Rifle Association (NRA), whom he criticized for preventing Senators and House Representatives from passing such legislation into law in the past. Parker criticized Virginia Senators Tim Kaine (who criticized the NRA for blocking efforts by the Virginia General Assembly and U.S. Congress to pass legislation to tighten background checks for gun purchases in April 2015) and Mark Warner (who voted in 2013 to expand background checks for gun purchases) for not directly contacting his family following the announcement that his daughter was one of the victims.[32][73][74]

In a statement, staff members for Kaine, who was in Alaska on official business at the time of the shooting, responded to Parker's criticism explaining that Kaine had not reached out to the victims' families at the time "out of respect for their space and privacy during this difficult time of grieving" but plans to work with the families of Parker, Ward, and Gardner to help pass gun control legislation through Congress. The same reasoning was cited by a spokesperson for Warner on August 29, who said Warner did not reach out immediately to Andy Parker out of respect to the family's privacy "at a time of unimaginable grief" and had sent a message to Parker that afternoon.[32][73][74]

Media response[edit]

In the wake of the shooting, various media was either delayed or pulled from television outlets because of the shootings. The first-season finale of the TV series Mr. Robot was postponed one week from its originally scheduled air date on the day of the murders, because the episode includes a scene with similarities to the incident.[75] IFC delayed its airing episode of its satirical series Documentary Now! titled "Dronez", centering on two journalists, who are killed on-camera in one scene as they track down an elusive Mexican drug cartel leader.[76][77] Warner Bros. Records decided to pull a television commercial for Disturbed's album Immortalized, as it depicted an incident similar to the killings.[78]

Users of Facebook and Twitter criticized the sites' policies of showing videos on autoplay, causing viewers to see graphic images of the shooting without warning.[79][80] The New York Post and New York Daily News, along with British tabloids including the Daily Mirror and The Sun, were criticized for their decision to publish still frames from Flanagan's phone video of the murder on their front pages.[81][82] Of the three U.S. major network evening newscasts on August 26, ABC World News Tonight did not show any part of Flanagan's video, a still frame from the video was broadcast on NBC Nightly News, and CBS Evening News showed a 25-second segment from the video.[83] CNN initially aired the footage once every hour on the same day but then shortly stopped airing it hours later.[84] Despite WDBJ's plea on Twitter not to "share or post the video," Everytown for Gun Safety eventually shared the broadcast video with a three-second discretional warning, but the organization used neither Flanagan's video nor his name for video sharing.[85]

Head of the American Psychological Association PTSD Guidelines Development Panel Christine Courtois warned that anyone watching the footage was likely to be upset, and some, particularly children and trauma victims, would be more susceptible to this leading to acute stress disorder than others.[86] The Guardian journalist Catherine Bennett criticized the media's use of frame shots and footage as "helping Flanagan achieve his vanity script."[87]

Ebony writer Jamilah Lemieux wrote that the American audience was sensitive about watching the footage of Parker and Ward's deaths.[88] Dexter Thomas of Los Angeles Times wrote that the mainstream media was discretional about rebroadcasting the footage to white audiences.[89]

Los Angeles Times writer Mary McNamara wrote that not watching the graphic footage to prevent the fulfillment of "a killer's wish is not just absurd[;] it's agreeing to adopt a murderer's way of thinking." She said the footage is to be watched not for entertainment but to realize how brutal the murders were.[90] The New York Daily News writer Linda Stasi said the American media criticism of showing death footages of journalists contradicted the media decisions to frequently publish any media of other violent contents.[91]

The Virginia State Police requested that the BBC delete, rather than air, the station's copy of the video of Flanagan crashing his car during the police chase before he committed suicide.[92]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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