On-Air Slayings Unfold on Social Media 08/27 06:28
The fatal shooting of a reporter and cameraman unfolded on live TV during
the early morning show, as tens of thousands of viewers watched a horrified
anchor struggle to comprehend what had happened.
MONETA, Va. (AP) -- The fatal shooting of a reporter and cameraman unfolded
on live TV during the early morning show, as tens of thousands of viewers
watched a horrified anchor struggle to comprehend what had happened.
Within hours, the carefully scripted carnage carried out by a disgruntled
former colleague spread to millions of viewers gripped by what had transformed
into a social media storm. The governor initially described a car chase on his
weekly radio show, with police on the shooter's tail on an interstate highway.
Then, social media posts referencing the slain TV pair surfaced on an
account under an on-air pseudonym used by the gunman --- culminating with a
first-person video of the ambush filmed by the shooter.
On Thursday, one day after the deaths shocked millions across the country,
the grieving staff at WDBJ-TV came together for an emotional broadcast of its
"Mornin'" show. At 6:45 a.m. --- the time of the shooting that took the lives
of reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward --- the station observed a
moment of silence, showing the victim's photos on the screens.
Anchor Kim McBroom, who was on the anchor desk during Wednesday's shooting
and tried to reassure viewers immediately after the attack was broadcast,
joined hands with weatherman Leo Hirsbrunner and fellow anchor Steve Grant, who
came in from sister station KYTV in Springfield, Missouri.
"Joining hands here on the desk. It's the only way to do it," she said just
before the moment of silence.
During his forecast, Hirsbrunner's voice trembled as he recalled how Ward
would check in with him every morning about the weather before going out on
"I don't even know how to do weather on a day like this," he said. McBroom
told him: "Good job, partner. We're going to get through this together."
The morning broadcast include a series of news pieces on the shooting. One
looked at the criminal investigation of gunman Vester Lee Flanagan II, the
former WDBJ-TV reporter known to viewers by his on-air name Bryce Williams. He
died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound hours after the shooting.
His family released a statement through a representative, expressing
condolences for the victims' families and asking for privacy: "Words cannot
express the hurt that we feel," it read in part.
The social media post made Wednesday through an account under the name Bryce
Williams name had a 56-second video clip. It shows Vester Lee Flanagan II
quietly approach Parker and Adam Ward, gun in hand, as they conduct an
interview. But Ward's camera was aimed at the mini-golf course nearby instead
of the reporter. So the shooter waited, cursing Parker under his breath, for 20
seconds until the live television picture was back on the reporter. Then he
fired eight shots without saying a word.
The attack seemed carefully planned. Flanagan was captured in a rental car
he reserved at some point before the shootings; his own Mustang was found
abandoned at the local airport, Franklin County Sheriff Bill Overton said. The
interview was done at a shopping center not yet open for the day at a remote
lake in Moneta, some 25 miles away from WDBJ's studios in Roanoke. The station
promoted where the reporter would be, including a plug on Twitter just a half
hour before the shooting.
About three hours after the killing, ABC News reported it received a 23-page
faxed statement from Bryce Williams, the on-air name used by Flanagan.
Unlike so many crimes, which have to be pieced together in reverse, this one
played out in real time on Twitter and Facebook. The station's live footage of
the shooting was being shared over and over before even station managers knew
the fate of their employees. Some 40,000 viewers had initially tuned in,
including the local sheriff, and heard Parker scream. They saw her run as the
camera fell, capturing a fleeting image of a man holding a handgun.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe's assurance that an arrest was "imminent"
spread quickly, only to be followed soon after with a post on the Twitter
account Flanagan apparently used under the pseudonym: "I filmed the shooting
see Facebook." It was there that the video appeared.
Parker, Ward and their interview subject, local economic development
official Vicki Gardner, don't appear to notice Flanagan. They react as he opens
fire, and Flanagan's video goes to black after eight shots are fired; seven
more are heard before it ends, more methodical than the initial burst.
It wasn't Flanagan's first encounter with the pair. The 41-year-old had been
fired by the station in 2013 and had to be escorted out of the building,
President and General Manager Jeffrey Marks said.
On Twitter, Flanagan described workplace conflicts with both of his victims.
He said Parker had made racist comments and that she was still hired after he
filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Ward had
reported him to human resources, he said.
Flanagan alleged that other employees made racially tinged comments to him,
but his EEOC claim was dismissed and none of his allegations could be
corroborated, Marks said.
Dan Dennison, now a state government spokesman in Hawaii, was the WDBJ news
director who hired Flanagan in 2012 and fired him in 2013, largely for
performance issues, he said.
"We did a thorough investigation and could find no evidence that anyone had
racially discriminated against this man," Dennison said. "You just never know
when you're going to work how a potentially unhinged or unsettled person might
impact your life in such a tragic way."
Flanagan was fired at least twice from small-market stations after managers
said he caused problems with other employees.
In the fax to ABC, Flanagan called himself a gay black man who had been
mistreated by people of all races. He said he bought the gun two days after
nine black people were killed in a June 17 shooting at a Charleston church and
wanted to use it to retaliate for what authorities called a racially motivated
shooting. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said
the gun was purchased legally.
The fax also included admiration for the gunmen who carried out mass
killings at Virginia Tech in 2007 and Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999.
He described himself as a "human powder keg" that was "just waiting to go
Both Parker and Ward had worked at other stations, but a return to Roanoke
meant a return to the area where they grew up. Ward was engaged to station
producer Melissa Ott, who watched from the control room as he was shot, and was
known as a happy-go-lucky guy who seldom missed a football game at his alma
mater, Virginia Tech. Parker had been dating a fellow anchor at WDBJ, Chris
Hurst, who called her "the most radiant woman I ever met."
He appeared on the broadcast Thursday morning, saying he wanted to tell
Parker's story even as he grieved.
"Alison, what great things she could have done," he said.