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Cameraman and reporter shot dead on air; Tragedy strikes local Virginia television station

By Gabrielle Beacken
Nation & World Editor

What Happened

At approximately 6:45 a.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 26, ex-employee of WDBJ television station, Vester Lee Flanagan II, 41, murdered reporter Alison Parker, 24, and cameraman Adam Ward, 27, on live television, during the station’s morning program in Roanoke, Va.

At the time of the shooting, Parker was interviewing Vicki Gardner, executive director of the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce, when she was shot in the back, the New York Times reported. She is the sole survivor of the attack. The shooter fired 17 rounds from a .40 caliber Glock pistol at point-blank range, according to Reuters.

The shooting was filmed by the shooter’s body camera and was virally spread through the shooter’s social media accounts. Debates about gun control and violent video sharing through social media have ensued.Family, friends and colleagues share their grief and loving memories of the two slain reporters, Parker and Ward.

The Victims

They were the “A-Team,” WDBJ7-TV  news director Kelly Zuber said in an interview with USA Today. Parker and Ward were both seen as “dedicated, energetic professionals with bright futures ahead of them,” reported USA Today.

Even though Parker filled the early morning shifts, she was easy to get along with and always had a positive attitude, said a colleague to USA Today.

“The most radiant women I ever met,” a colleague told CNN.

Ward was the “sort of person you never saw without a smile,” another colleague said to CNN.

“Adam was one of those photographers who would go anywhere, do anything for you,” Zuber told USA Today.

The duo was described as “two outstanding professionals,” said Mike Morgan Both, WDBJ7-TV spokesman, to USA Today.

Parker grew up in Southwest Virginia and earned her bachelor’s degree in media art and design from James Madison University in 2012. There, she was an editor and reporter for the school’s newspaper, according to CNN.

Moved in together and saving up for a wedding, Parker was in a nine-month-long relationship with boyfriend and anchor at WDBJ, Chris Hurst. When Hurst met Parker he told his mother, “Mom, I’ve finally found my teammate and my partner,” reported CNN.

“She cared about her stories and took a genuine interest in what people said,” said Becky Blanton, journalist and friend of Parker, to CNN.

Ward was “genuinely a good guy” said a colleague to CNN. The 2011 Virginia Tech graduate earned his bachelor’s degree in
communications.

“He had such a positive outlook on life, and he was so determined to put a smile on your face,” former WDBJ employee Larell Reynolds said to CNN.

The cameraman was recently engaged to WDBJ morning show producer Melissa Ott.

“They were the most amazing couple,” said Solina Lewis, journalist and friend to Ott, to CNN. “(They) wanted to have a family … they would (have) made the best parents.”

According to Kimberly McBroom, WDBJ7-TV’s morning news anchor and friend of both Ward and Parker, Ward was excited to start a family and often talked about his upcoming wedding, she told USA Today.

Ott was working her last day, the morning of the shooting, and saw the entire tragedy occur live. She and Ward were going to relocate to North Carolina.

“Melissa was the love of his life, so he was going to follow her,” Zuber said to USA Today.

Gardner was the third and only surviving victim of the shooting.

The shooter “missed a couple of times” before shooting her in the back, said Gardner’s husband to the New York Times.

Gardner then underwent a successful emergency surgery. Her recovery will take several months, according to The Times.

Preceding Parker and Warden’s death, the two journalists were working on an hour-long child-abuse story.

“They were involved in the most important aspect of journalism,” said Todd Schurz, president and CEO of Schurz Communications, which owns WDBJ7-TV, to USA Today. “Telling the stories important to their local communities.”

The Shooter

The shooter wore a body camera when he shot Parker, Ward and Gardner in point-blank range. The videos of the shooting were shared on Facebook and Twitter, according to the New York Times.

“Unlike previous televised deaths, these were not merely broadcast, but widely and virally distributed,” reported the New York Times.

The shooter worked at WDBJ for less than a year before he was fired in 2013, reported the New York Times. The shooter was known for his rages, angry outbursts and did not get along well with others.

After his dismissal, the shooter “sued the station, claiming discrimination,” said the New York Times. The case was dismissed and the station insists the accusations were baseless, reported the New York Times.

While the police were searching for him, he “sent a manifesto to ABC News that spoke admiringly of mass killers and said that as a black, gay man he had faced discrimination and sexual harassment,” the New York Times reported.

The shooter shot himself in the head, killing himself, during a police chase in northern Virginia, according to Reuters.

The Aftermath

Parker’s father, Andy, has vowed that he will fight for more effective gun control. He urges loopholes in gun control legislations to be remedied and that the world doesn’t become “desensitized to this issue,” he told CNN.

According to CNN, Andy said “he doesn’t want people to say, ‘Oh geez, this is another horrific incident,’ and then turn their attention to ‘What’s for dinner tonight, honey?’”

After tragic events such as this occur, the public often thinks that a dramatic change in gun control will happen. According to Andy, it “never did,” he told CNN.

“Alison was our bright, shining light, and it was cruelly extinguished by yet another crazy person with a gun,” said Andy to CNN. “Not hearing her voice again crushes my soul.”

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