Tuesday 19 November 2019

'Disgruntled colleague' shoots journalists dead during live TV, posts video online before shooting himself and dying

*Gunmen who killed news reporter and cameraman during live broadcast identified as 'disgruntled former employee'
*Suspect Vester Lee Flanagan II shot himself after police chase
*Two killed earlier named as Alison Parker (24) and Adam Ward (27)
*Suspect believed to have posted his own video of the shooting on social media

Vester L Flanagan, also called Bryce Williams, was fired from WDBJ two years ago
Vester L Flanagan, also called Bryce Williams, was fired from WDBJ two years ago
Bryce Williams - or Vester L Flanagan - in a photo on his Facebook page
Shooting takes place during live broadcast
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

The suspect behind the killing of two journalists live on US television has been pronounced dead in hospital, the police in Virginia have confirmed.

Vester L Flanagan (41), a disgruntled former employee of the WDBJ station where he worked under the name of Bryce Williams, died after shooting himself when corner by police following a high speed chase.

Sheriff Bill Overton began a press conference this evening saying he had “a sorrowful heart”. He confirmed that the suspect is dead.

"First and foremost at approximately 1.30pm today, the suspect from this incident, this shooting, died at Fairfax [hospital] as the result of a self-inflicted gunshot injury," he said.

Mr Flanagan was identified by police as the gunman who shot and killed two journalists live on air during a breakfast show earlier today.

TV news reporter Alison Parker(24) and cameraman Adam Ward (27) were killed during an interview with a member of the local Chamber of Commerce on the WDBJ channel.

Read more: News gunman has a history of claiming racial allegations against co-workers

The woman being interviewed, Vicki Gardner, was also shot and wounded and is in a stable condition following emergency surgery.

Flanagan fled the scene before deputies arrived, Overton said. 

Murdered journalists and colleagues Adam Ward and Alison Parker
Pic: Facebook
Murdered journalists and colleagues Adam Ward and Alison Parker Pic: Facebook
Shooting suspect Credit: @WHSVnews

Before 11am, deputies found Flanagan’s Ford mustang at a regional airport; Flanagan then left the airport at a Chevrolet Sonic that the had rented earlier in the month.

Sheriff Overton that Virginia state police and public tips helped track the vehicle as it traveled on Interstate 66.

State police spokseman Rick Garletts says that a state police officer saw Flanagan’s vehicle on Interstate 66 and followed him until backup arrived. Once it did, he says she tried to stop Flanagan – he sped off and crashed.

She then “found Flanagan suffering from a self-inflicted gunshot wound”, Garletts said. Flanagan was flown to the Fairfax hospital and died at around 1.30pm, he finishes.

Read more: WDBJ Profiles: Alison Parker and Adam Ward

Overton said he was wary about ascribing a motive, noting that Flanagan was a former employee of WDBJ7, the station where the two journalists he killed also worked.

He said evidence so far suggests “this gentleman was disturbed in some way at the way things had transpired in his life” and that “it appears that things had spiraled out of control”.

Vester L. Flanagan, who worked under the name Bryce Williams

The shooting was captured on live television with the video showing Ms Parker interviewing Ms Gardner about tourism on Bridgewater Plaza in Franklin County in Virginia.

She was smiling when at least eight shots were heard.

The camera appeared to drop to the ground and the reporter can be heard screaming.

The station then switches back to a shot of a presenter back at the station, who has a shocked expression on her face.

Local media affiliates earlier reported that Flanagan had been leading police on a chase along the motorway.

Police pursued the suspect and in the late morning, an ABC local affiliate and CNN reported the suspected shooter had shot himself, but it was not known if he was dead or alive. Initially it was reported that he was dead.

Vester Lee Flanagan worked at WDBJ as a reporter for about a year using the on-air name Bryce Williams.

A Twitter account purporting to be run by the shooter has posted a video of the shooting, as well as one of the lead-up to the attack.

Read more: Gunman sued former employer WDBJ for discrimination

The videos posted in the name of “Bryce Williams” show an approach to Parker, Gardner and Ward on the deck where they were filming an interview. The three continue reporting live and do not acknowledge the approaching person. The person filming then angles alongside the cameraman and aims a handgun directly at Parker, who does not appear to notice.

A second video shows the gunman shooting at Parker as she runs away from the shots.

The video then cuts. The Twitter account has now been suspended. Other tweets stated: “I filmed the shooting see Facebook,” “Adam went to [human resources] on me after working with me one time!!!” and “Alison made racist comments. EEOC report filed. They hired her after that???”

Also, ABC News reported that someone using the name Bryce Williams faxed the organisation a lengthy 23-page document that it has turned over to authorities.

It is reported that Vicki Gardner of the Smith Mountain Lake Chamber of Commerce is the woman being interviewed in the footage, and she was hurt in the shooting. It is understood she is in surgery.

Read More: 'Disgruntled' presenter filmed killing of former colleagues and posted it online

Alison's partner Chris Hurst has tweeted that the pair were "very much in love" and that they had "just moved in together".

"We were together almost nine months. It was the best nine months of our lives. We wanted to get married. We just celebrated her 24th birthday," he said.

"She was the most radiant woman I ever met. And for some reason she loved me back. She loved her family, her parents and her brother.

"I am comforted by everyone at @WDBJ7. We are a family. She worked with Adam every day. They were a team. I am heartbroken for his fiancee."

Adam Ward was engaged to producer Melissa Ott and it was her last day working at the station. She was moving to North Carolina to take up a similar job and the crew had held a party for her shortly before the shooting. According to friends Ward had been planning to move to North Carolina with her, and had said he wanted to "get out of the news".

The shooting incident took place at the Bridgewater Plaza near Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia.

WDBJ spokesman Mike Morgan said Mr Ward was engaged to a producer at the station, Melissa Ott.

He said: "Adam was our go-to guy. He pretty much was available to do anything that we asked. He did live shots during our morning show for several years."

According to Franklin County Sheriff Department, the shooting occurred at 6:45 a.m.

Up to 40 police officers are taking currently part in the search for the suspect.

They are hoping to release a description of the shooter to the public this afternoon.

Read More: 'Disgruntled' presenter filmed killing of former colleagues and posted it online

The WDBJ-TV station is based in Roanoke, Virginia, and serves the south-west and central part of the state.

The shopping centre is just off Smith Mountain Lake. Moneta is about 25 miles south-east of Roanoke.

Mr Marks said on Wednesday: "It is my very, very sad duty to report that we have determined through the help of the police and our own employees that Alison and Adam died this morning shortly after 6.45 after the shots rang out."

"We do not know the motive, we do not know who the killer is.

"I just got off the phone with the state police they are working very diligently to track down both the motive and the person responsible for this crimes against two very fine journalists."

He added: "I cannot tell you how much they were loved, Alison and Adam, by the WDBJ7 team.

"Our hearts are broken and our sympathy goes to our entire team but also their parents and families of Alison Parker and Adam Ward, who were just out doing their job today covering a story near Smith Mountain Lake.

"We have members of the team holding back tears frankly."

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