MONETA, Va. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A CBS affiliate reporter and cameraman were shot and killed during a live television broadcast in central Virginia Wednesday, and the suspected gunman later died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
As CBS2’s Lou Young reported from Roanoke, candles burned late Wednesday at the TV station the killer apparently wanted to punish.
Alison Parker, 24, and Adam Ward, 27, of WDBJ-TV, Roanoke, were shot and killed shortly after 6:45 a.m. while conducting an interview at the Bridgewater Plaza shopping mall in Moneta, said the station’s general manager, Jeffrey A. Marks.
The killer apparently knew his victims would not see him coming. The reporter focused on her live interview at 6:46 a.m., while the cameraman focused on the viewfinder.
Parker was in the middle of a live interview for a feature story at the time of the shooting.
The video of the incident that was broadcast live shows Parker smiling during the interview when suddenly at least eight shots ring out. Parker screams, runs and can be heard saying, “Oh my God!”
The station then switches back to a shot of an anchor back at the station, who appears shocked and says, “OK, not sure what happened there. We will of course let you know as soon as we find out what those sounds were from.”
“We heard screaming and then we heard nothing,” Marks said.
Parker was interviewing Vicki Gardner of the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce when the shots rang out, WDBJ-TV said. An official with the chamber told The Roanoke Times newspaper reported that Gardner was shot in the back. She underwent surgery, is in stable condition and is expected to survive, Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital said. The hospital did not elaborate on the nature of her wounds.
Hours later, Vester Lee Flanagan II, 41, of Roanoke, fatally shot himself on Interstate 66 in Fauquier County, WDBJ reported. The suspect drove off the highway and crashed after suffering a self-inflicted gunshot wound, police said.
Minutes earlier, a state trooper tried to pull over Flanagan’s car, but the suspect sped away, authorities said.
A law enforcement source told CBS News that Flanagan was airlifted to Inova Fairfax Hospital in Fairfax, Virginia, where he died at 1:26 p.m., about two hours after shooting himself, said Virginia Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran.
The suspect was believed to be a disgruntled former reporter of WDBJ. Federal and local authorities had been searching for him for hours before he shot himself, police said.
Flanagan used the name Bryce Williams on television.
The entire Roanoke community was numb with shock and horror following the shooting.
“It was extremely difficult this morning. I actually did a remote with Ms. Parker and Adam about three years ago. It has really stopped me in my tracks this morning,” said local sheriff’s spokesman Bill Overton.
Parker and Ward’s co-workers at WDBJ fought back tears as they confirmed the news of Parker and Ward’s deaths Wednesday morning – compounded by the fact that they knew the presumed killer and the victims.
General manager Marks said employees recognized Flanagan in a chilling image caught by Ward’s camera as it fell to the ground.
WDBJ was the last stop in a series of brief TV stints for Flanagan, 41 – in Odessa, Texas; Savannah; and Tallahassee before finally working in Roanoke.
Officials said they don’t yet know a motive, and authorities said they don’t know if the shooting was racially motivated. Flanagan was black and had formerly complained about racial bias at the station.
Someone using the name Bryce Williams posted video on social media that appears to show the actual shooting from the perspective of the gunman.
The posts also included accusations of racism against the reporter and conflict with the cameraman. The Facebook and Twitter accounts have since been suspended.
Social media sites moved fast to take the postings down.
Police told CBS2 Flanagan fled the scene after the shooting and switched cars before shooting himself while driving.
“Shortly before 11:30 a.m. this morning, Virginia State Police Trooper Pam Neff was on patrol and attempted to stop the vehicle. The driver of the Sonic – Vester Flanagan, also known as Bryce Williams, refused to stop and sped away from the trooper,” Overton said. “It was only a minute or two later that the Sonic ran off the road into the median. Flanagan was flown from the scene to Inova Fairfax Hospital, where he died.”
Meanwhile, ABC News reported it received a 23-page fax from someone claiming to be Bryce Williams.
ABC said Flanagan had called the network for weeks wanting to pitch a story, but never said what it was. The network received the fax at 8:26 a.m., nearly two hours after the shooting. Flanagan called again around 10 a.m. saying he had shot two people and that authorities were “after me.” He then hung up.
The fax indicated the shootings were in response to the Charleston, South Carolina, church shooting in June, in which Dylann Roof, a white gunman who said he wanted to start a race war, fatally shot nine black people, police said.
“Why did I do it?” the fax read. “I put down a deposit for a gun on 6/19/15. The Church shooting in Charleston happened on 6/17/15.
“What sent me over the top was the church shooting.
“As for Dylann Roof? … You want a race war … ? BRING IT THEN.”
ABC said it turned the fax over to authorities.
And law enforcement sources told CBS News that Flanagan purchased two Glock pistols legally on July 10 from a gun store in Roanoke. Investigators have been to the store.
Marks called the shooting senseless and horrifying.
“You can be in this business for 40 years and know that this kind of thing can happen and pray that it doesn’t, and then when it hits, the shock is overwhelming,” Marks told 1010 WINS. “Everybody in our building is just walking around in a daze. There’s tears, there’s hugging. These people were not liked; they were loved.”