Suspect Kills Self After Fatally Shooting 2 Journalists On Air

Aug 26, 2015
Originally published on August 27, 2015 1:58 pm
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We begin this hour with the horrifying shooting today in Virginia. A gunman shot and killed a television reporter and her videographer during a live broadcast for WDBJ, the CBS affiliate in Roanoke.


A woman who was being interviewed was also shot. She's in stable condition. The suspect was identified by police as a former reporter at the station. He videotaped himself during the shooting and afterwards posted the video on social media. He shot himself as police chased him on an interstate. He later died.

CORNISH: In a moment, a discussion about violence and social media. But we begin our coverage from Virginia, and a warning, some of what you'll hear is disturbing. Here's Sandy Hausman of member station WVTF.

SANDY HAUSMAN, BYLINE: The story was routine, an interview with someone from the Chamber of Commerce in a small town near Roanoke. Reporter Alison Parker, who had recently celebrated her 24th birthday, was doing the interview. Her 27-year-old cameraman, Adam Ward, stood nearby sending video back to the station. What happened next was shocking.


HAUSMAN: The station quickly cut back to the anchor desk where a stunned host sat, her jaw-dropping. A short time later, station manager Jeffrey Marx joined members of his news team on the set.


JEFFREY MARX: It is my very, very sad duty to report that Alison and Adam died this morning shortly after 6:45 when the shots rang out. I cannot tell you how much they were loved, Alison and Adam, by the WDBJ7 team, and our hearts are broken.

HAUSMAN: Later, he confirmed that the suspect in the case had worked at the station as a reporter. His image was caught on Ward's camera. Forty-one-year-old Vester Lee Flanagan was let go after he complained of racial discrimination on the job. In a tweet, he claimed Parker was racist and said Ward had reported him to human resources. Flanagan was black, Parker and Ward, white. The general manager said Flanagan's complaints could not be confirmed.


MARX: We think they were fabricated, but just as an insurance policy, we went around and talked to all of our employees. And we have a pretty diverse workplace, and we got nothing about that. And the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission dismissed the claim out of hand, so we had an unhappy former employee. But this happens, and usually, they move on. Sometimes they're just not suited for the work.

HAUSMAN: But Flanagan stayed in town, and Franklin County Sheriff Bill Overton suggested he may have had psychological problems.

BILL OVERTON: This gentleman was disturbed in some way of the way things had transpired at some point in his life. It would appear things were spiraling out of control, but we're still looking into that.

HAUSMAN: ABC News says it received a lengthy fax this morning from someone named Bryce Williams, the name Flanagan used on the air. In that document, he wrote that what triggered today's carnage was his reaction to the racism of the Charleston church shootings in June. He also said he was bullied at work.

Meanwhile, staffers at WDBJ are mourning professional and personal losses. Alison Parker was living with one of the station's news anchors and Adam Ward was engaged to the producer of this morning's news. Virginia's governor, Terry McAuliffe, sent his condolences and urged lawmakers to ask questions about how to prevent senseless events in the future. He wrote (reading) keeping guns out of the hands of people who would use them to harm our family, friends and loved ones is not a political issue; it's a matter of ensuring that more people can come home safely at the end of the day. For NPR News, I'm Sandy Hausman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.