Two WDBJ journalists shot and killed on live TV


Emily Berthiaume, Editor-in-Chief

A television reporter conducting an on-air interview and her cameraman were both shot and killed by an ex-colleague while being broadcast live. The journalists were reporting for WDBJ-TV, a local news station near Roanoke, VA, when they were murdered on August 26.

Vester Lee Flanagan II, better known as his alias Bryce Williams, which he used during his short time working at the station, seemingly waited until Alison Parker and the interviewee, Vicki Gardner, were in frame before he pulled the trigger from point-blank range. Twenty-four year old Parker and twenty-seven year old cameraman Adam Ward were both fatally shot, while Gardner survived after undergoing surgery.

Flanagan previously worked with both Parker and Ward, but was fired from the station two years ago.  In court papers linked to his firing, he mentioned that he would “make a stink and it’s going to be in the headlines”. He frequently ranted on Twitter, accusing the victims of racial prejudice and alluding to complaints fired with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Human Resources. In a 23-page screed he faxed to ABC News, Flanagan cited many reasons for vengeance, from the recent shooting in a Charleston, SC church to a message from Jehovah.

“I’ve been a human powder keg for a while . . . just waiting to go BOOM!!!!” the 41-year-old wrote in the manifesto.

Flanagan actually videoed the shooting himself, and then posted it to his personal Facebook and Twitter. In the video, the Glock 19 handgun and terrified face of Parker are evident.

In the live broadcast, the camera shows Parker screaming, then immediately drops to the ground. Fourteen shots ring out before the WDBJ-TV reporters cut back to the newsroom and anchor Kimberly McBroom, who just stared in shock.

“I thought maybe they were startled by the sound. I heard her screaming. I thought she was scared of the sound. I thought there was some kind of explanation”, McBroom said. “During the commercial, we are trying to text her, to text him. The longer that it was that we didn’t hear back from them, the more I knew that something really wrong had happened.”

Everyone at the station did not know what was going on and didn’t know what to do.

“We heard screaming, and then we heard nothing,” the station’s general manager, Jeff Marks, said while announcing the deaths on the air.

Ward’s fiancée, Melissa Ott, a producer for the station, was in the newsroom at the time, and watched the situation as it played out on live TV.

“We were busy trying to keep her calm and hopeful,” McBroom said. “We’re family, you know. We are dealing with this together.”

Parker was also dating an employee of the station, nightly news anchor Chris Hurst. They had recently moved in together, and he posted on Facebook that he was “numb” after hearing the news.

Flanagan fled the scene of the crime in a Mustang and headed straight for the airport, where he swapped cars for a rental Chevrolet Sonic, according to Franklin County Sheriff Bill Overton. A cop identified the car on the road, and it swerved off the road. The cops found Flanagan mortally wounded from a self-inflicted gun shot in the car.

“This gentleman was disturbed at the way things had turned out at some point in his life,” said Overton. “Things were spiraling out of control.”

Gardner, who was being interviewed before the attack, underwent surgery to remove the bullet from her back and is now recovering.

Hurst, Parker’s boyfriend, returned to the airwaves as anchor nineteen days after the tragedy. He said he was ready to return to work because Parker loved watching him work.

“Don’t forget their love,” he said of Ward and Parker. “It will fuel us for the rest of our days”.