US journalists shot dead live on TV
Gunman said he had been 'like a powder keg waiting to go boom'
Published 27/08/2015 | 02:30
Alison Parker surely saw her killer out of the corner of her eye as he walked up filming her on his mobile phone. It would not have been the first time that a member of the public had stood staring while she was on live TV but, ever the professional, she simply ignored him and carried on with her interview, as she had been trained to do.
The slightest glance to her right would have shown her that the 6ft 3ins man towering over her cameraman Adam Ward had a pistol in his hand that he calmly raised, lowered and raised again, pointing directly at her heart as he whispered: "Bitch."
For more than 20 seconds Vester Flanagan, a former colleague with grudges against each of them, stood still almost within touching distance of Ms Parker, filming her all the time. Then, after raising his gun for a final time, he opened fire, killing Ms Parker and Mr Ward live on television.
In a rambling 23-page fax sent to ABC News after the shooting, Flanagan, a serial litigant over racism claims, said he carried out the murders as revenge for the killing of nine black churchgoers by a white supremacist in Charleston, South Carolina, in June.
He claimed that Ms Parker was a "racist", adding: "My hollow-point bullets have the victims' initials on them."
He also claimed that "Jehovah spoke to me" and told him to act. Police described him as "disturbed", with his life "spiralling out of control".
Flanagan (41) murdered both Ms Parker and Mr Ward as viewers of Virginia's WDBJ7 TV and colleagues in the studio watched with horror and disbelief. They included Mr Ward's fiancée Melissa Ott, a producer who was in the control room of the studio in Roanoke at the time.
Ms Parker (24) only turned to look at Flanagan after he fired the first shot, screaming in surprise and terror, then tried in vain to flee as he unleashed a rapid volley of eight shots, still filming on his mobile phone.
Mr Ward (27) fell to the floor with his camera, which captured a momentary image of his murderer.
Even in a country depressingly familiar with acts of incomprehensible violence, the killings surely left viewers numb with shock. Yet the shock was far from over; within hours, as he was being pursued by police, Flanagan posted his video of the murders on his Facebook and Twitter accounts, his killer's-eye-view like a bloodthirsty video game made real, a new low in America's never-ending story of gun crime.
The White House responded by urging Congress rapidly to pass gun-control laws sought by President Barack Obama, whose exasperated spokesman said it was time to show "common sense" on firearms legislation.
After evading police for almost five hours, Flanagan shot himself as his car was pursued by a traffic officer and died later in hospital.
Colleagues who were left to mourn Ms Parker and Mr Ward - whilst simultaneously reporting on their deaths the instant they happened - described her as a "rock star" among journalists, while Mr Ward was lauded as the station's "go-to-guy".
Vicki Gardner, the woman who was being interviewed about tourism and was hit in the back by a bullet, was in a stable condition in hospital last night after emergency surgery.
Flanagan had clearly intended to garner maximum publicity for whatever point he believed he was making, by carrying out the shooting live on television and posting his videos online.
Alison Parker's father Andy said: "I can't watch it. I can't watch any news. All it would do is rip out my heart further than it already it is.
"My grief is unbearable. Is this real?
"Am I going to wake up? I am crying my eyes out.
"I don't know if there's anybody in this world or another father who could be more proud of their daughter."
Police said they were unsure how Flanagan knew his victims were going to be at the Bridgewater Plaza shopping centre near Smith Mountain Lake in Franklin County, where he carried out the murder at 6.43am local time.
He fled in a Ford Mustang, later found abandoned, and switched to a hired Chevrolet.
It gave him time to post his videos online and post tweets in which he said: "Alison made racist comments.… EEOC (equal opportunities) report filed.…They hired her after that???"
He tweeted: "Adam went to HR on me after working with me one time!!!" and: "I filmed the shooting see Facebook."
In the fax to ABC, he said he had been a "human powder keg for a while just waiting to go BOOM!!!!". He said he put down a deposit for his gun two days after the Charleston shooting, in which nine black worshippers were shot dead by a white supremacist. He also called ABC and said he had carried out the shootings, and that the police were "after me".
At 11.30am his car was picked up by a licence plate recognition system, and after the policewoman followed him with her lights flashing his car veered off the road and he was found with a gunshot wound. He died two hours later.
Jeff Marks, general manager of WDBJ7, said Flanagan had been fired in 2013 from his job as a multimedia reporter.
He said: "After many incidents of his anger, we dismissed him. He did not take that well." (© Daily Telegraph, London)