Thursday 29 September 2016

Virginia shooting: Gunman was told to seek medical help by TV station

David Kearns

Published 27/08/2015 | 16:56

Vester L. Flanagan, who worked at WDBJ7 under the name Bryce Williams
Vester L. Flanagan, who worked at WDBJ7 under the name Bryce Williams
Vester L. Flanagan reporting for WDBJ7

Vester L. Flanagan, the gunman who killed two journalists live on air, was told by his bosses to seek medical help after colleagues repeatedly complained about him.

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Several flare-ups were detailed in internal messages from Dan Dennison, then the news director of WDBJ7, that were sent to Mr Flanagan and copied to senior staff.

According to memos obtained by the Guardian, the 41-year-old was reprimanded for “lashing out” at a colleague and for his “harsh language” and “aggressive body language” while working as a reporter.

On Wednesday morning, the former WDBJ7 presenter shot dead former co-workers 24-year-old reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward (27) during a live broadcast on the station’s breakfast show.

Read More: Church massacre was tipping point, hate-filled killer claimed

Mr Flanagan died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound later on Wednesday after he was cornered by police following on high-speed chase – during which he posted a video of attack on Ms Parker and Mr Ward.

In the internal memos obtained by The Guardian, dated 2012, the 41-year-old reprimanded for “aggressive” behaviour and making colleagues feel “threatened”.

Reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward were fatally shot during an on-air interview in Virginia (WDBJ-TV/AP)
Reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward were fatally shot during an on-air interview in Virginia (WDBJ-TV/AP)

Several flare-ups were detailed and he was told to contact employee assistance professionals at the company Health Advocate.

“This is a mandatory referral requiring your compliance,” the then station manager told Mr Flanagan on 30 July 2012.

“Failure to comply will result in termination of employment.”

Read More: Gunman had a long history of threatening his co-workers

Mr Dennison, then WDBJ7 station manager, began sending internal messages about Mr Flanagan’s behaviour just two months after the 41-year-old began working at the station in southern Virginia.

“On three separate occasions in the past month and a half you have behaved in a manner that has resulted in on or more of your co-workers feeling threatened or uncomfortable,” Mr Dennison told the former presenter.

The memo, addressed to Bryce Williams – the name under which Mr Flanagan worked, said he had “used verbal and body language that left co-workers feeling both threatened and extremely uncomfortable” during a heated argument inside a live station truck.

Alison Parker (L) with Vester L. Flanagan while they worked together at WDBJ7
Alison Parker (L) with Vester L. Flanagan while they worked together at WDBJ7

Other instances involved Mr Flanagan pressuring his accompanying photographer to record an interview in a certain way, forcefully repeating his demands in a way that made both the photographer and the interviewee uncomfortable

On Christmas Eve that year, Mr Dennison emailed colleagues to say he had just warned the 41-year-old that he had one final chance to save his job.

“I’m not entirely sure where his head is at,” Mr Dennison added.

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Mr Flanagan was fired three months later and had to be escorted from the station’s building by police after refusing to leave.

His last day at work was recorded in exhaustive detail in series of memos.

“I’m not leaving, you’re going to have to call the f**king police [sic],” Mr Flanagan reportedly said.

“Call the police. I’m not leaving. I’m going to make a stink and it’s going to be in the headlines.”

When police arrived to escort him out of the building, Mr Flanagan refused and began to throw items from his desk at the station’s manager, Mr Dennison.

Read More: Profiles: Alison Parker and Adam Ward were the "kindest and nicest people"

As police escorted him out of the newsroom, he told an officer, according to the memo: “ You know what they did? They had a watermelon back there for a week and basically called me a n****r.”

After his termination, Mr Flanagan sued WDBJ7 claiming he had been forced out by “racial and sexual discrimination”.

 “My entire life was disrupted after moving clear across the country for a job only to have my dream turn into a nightmare,” he said, in a letter to a judge.

The case was dismissed later that year due to lack of evidence.

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