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2 Journalists Killed During Live Broadcast In Virginia; Suspect Has Died

Reporter Alison Parker and photojournalist Adam Ward were killed by a gunman Wednesday morning while broadcasting live in Moneta, Va. WDBJ7 paid tribute to the two journalists by sharing this image on Twitter.
WDBJ7 via Twitter
Reporter Alison Parker and photojournalist Adam Ward were killed by a gunman Wednesday morning while broadcasting live in Moneta, Va. WDBJ7 paid tribute to the two journalists by sharing this image on Twitter.
(This post was last updated at 3:43 p.m. ET.)

Two journalists for Virginia TV news station WDBJ were killed by a gunman Wednesday morning while they were broadcasting live at a waterfront shopping center about an hour southeast of Roanoke, Va.

Reporter Alison Parker and photojournalist Adam Ward were doing a live report from Bridgewater Plaza in Moneta when a gunman opened fire, killing Parker and Ward and injuring Vicki Gardner, the head of a local Chamber of Commerce who was being interviewed. Gardner is now in stable condition, hospital officials say.

A suspect in the shooting was quickly identified — in part because of video taken at the scene — as Vester Lee Flanagan, 41, a former reporter for the station who was also known as Bryce Williams.

A screen capture of a video posted on Twitter, which shows the shooting from the vantage point of the shooter.
/ Twitter
A screen capture of a video posted on Twitter, which shows the shooting from the vantage point of the shooter.

Franklin County Sheriff Bill Overton says Flanagan has died. He had suffered a gunshot wound when he was taken into custody by Virginia State Police after a car chase that came hours after the shooting; authorities earlier said Flanagan was in critical condition.

At a 2:15 p.m. news conference, Overton said that less than an hour earlier, Flanagan had "died at Fairfax Inova Hospital in Northern Virginia, as a result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound."

In an earlier statement, Virginia State Police described how the shooting suspect had fled and eventually reached Interstate 66, with police in pursuit.

The suspect refused to stop, ran off the road and crashed. When police approached the vehicle, they found he had suffered a "gunshot wound." The man, police said, was taken to a hospital with "life-threatening injuries."

In an interview with CNN, Jeffrey A. Marks, WDBJ-TV's general manager, said Flanagan was hired as a reporter, but about two years ago he was fired. During a separate broadcast on his network, Marks said Flanagan had filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after he was fired.

The station reports:

"This happened during a live broadcast around 6:45 a.m. ...

"Adam was 27-years-old. Alison just turned 24.

"Both were from the WDBJ7 viewing area."

Video shows the camera panning to Parker in the middle of an interview as the gunman opens fire. Parker can be heard screaming.

The final image in the video shows the camera falling down and the feet of the presumed gunman walking out of the frame.

Hours after the shooting, a video from the gunman's perspective was posted to Twitter and Facebook under the name Bryce Williams. It shows a gunman quietly walking up on the live broadcast, looking toward the photographer (whose back was turned) and then pointing his gun at Parker before opening fire.

A man claiming to be Flanagan also sent a 23-page fax to ABC News, in which he said he had "been a human powder keg for a while" and took action after the Charleston, S.C., church shootings in June.

In addition to the Franklin County Sheriff's Office, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have sent personnel from Roanoke.

Update at 2:25 p.m. ET: Updates From News Conference

Former WDBJ employee Vester Lee Flanagan was taken into police custody after his car crashed into the median on I-66 in Virginia.

Franklin County Sheriff Bill Overton says Flanagan had switched cars, leaving his Ford Mustang at a Roanoke airport and driving away in a Chevrolet Sonic that he had rented before the attack. But the authorities tracked him as he drove up Interstate 81 and then onto I-66, and a police officer trailed him before activating her cruiser's emergency lights upon the arrival of backup.

Overton says Flanagan died at 1:30 p.m. ET, after being taken to the hospital with a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Update at 1:34 p.m. ET. A 'Senseless Tragedy':

In a written statement, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said that he was "heartbroken over this morning's senseless tragedy."

He said that as the state reflects on the shootings, residents should also begin thinking about how to prevent these kinds of things from happening.

"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 is a matter of ensuring that more people can come home safely at the end of the day," McAuliffe said. "We cannot rest until we have done whatever it takes to rid our society of preventable gun violence that results in tragedies like the one we are enduring today."

During his regular press briefing at the White House, Press Secretary Josh Earnest said this was yet another example of gun violence that has become prevalent.

There are things that Congress can do, he said, to have a "tangible impact."

Update at 12:12 p.m. ET. Suspect Injured?:

Earlier today, WDBJ-TV, citing law enforcement officials, said the suspect had killed himself on Interstate 66 in Fauquier County. The station later retracted that report, saying Flanagan was injured but still alive and in critical condition.

Update at 12:07 p.m. ET. Suspect Filed EEOC Complaint:

On the same Twitter account that posted video of the shooting, Flanagan also made it clear that he was angry at the reporter and the photographer.

He said he had filed a report with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Jeffrey A. Marks, WDBJ-TV's general manager, confirmed that Flanagan had filed that EEOC complaint.

Citing confidentiality provisions, the EEOC said it could not comment.

Update at 11:20 a.m. ET. Presumed Suspect Posts Video:

The presumed suspect in the shooting of the two WDBJ journalists posted a video of the attack filmed from his vantage point to Twitter and Facebook.

The video, which has since been taken down, shows the gunman walk up behind cameraman Adam Ward. Ward does not appear to be aware the gunman is there. As the cameraman pans to the left and the camera is pointed at reporter Alison Parker, the gunman raises a handgun and aims it at Parker,who also did not seem aware of the shooter's presence.

The gunman fires at least six rounds.

Parker runs out of the frame before the video goes black.

The Twitter account has also been suspended.

Update at 10:39 a.m. ET. Authorities Identify Suspect:

CNN is reporting law enforcement authorities know the identity of the presumed gunman. And the network is reporting that the woman being interviewed in the video survived.

"The woman being interviewed, Vicki Gardner, executive director of the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce, was shot in the back and is in surgery, said Barb Nocera, the chamber's special projects manager."

The Stauton, Va., area News Leader is reporting:

"Police think the shooting suspect headed north on I-81 and is in Staunton or Waynesboro near I-64."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Brakkton Booker is a National Desk reporter based in Washington, DC.
Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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