Early Wednesday morning, WDBJ reporter Alison Parker and photographer Adam Ward were shot to death during a live broadcast near Moneta, Virginia. Though initial reports indicated a random act of violence, an equally tragic narrative quickly emerged involving a disgruntled former employee of the station specifically targeting the network.
Known to WDBJ viewers by his on-air pseudonym Bryce Williams, 41-year-old Vester Lee Flanagan II had reportedly been fired from the station two years ago, though the specifics of his departure were not immediately made public. “We had to separate him from the company,” WDBJ General Manager Jeff Marks told CNN. “We did understand that he was still living in the area.” Marks elaborated:
“Vester was an unhappy man. We employed him as a reporter and he had some talent in that respect and some experience. He quickly gathered a reputation of someone who was difficult to work with. He was sort of looking out to people to say things he could take offense to. Eventually, after many incidents of his anger, we dismissed him. He did not take that well. We had to call police to escort him from the building.”
Shortly after Flanagan murdered Parker and Ward (and injured interview subject Vicki Gardner), he took to his since-deleted Twitter and Facebook accounts to boast of the killing via two disturbing self-filmed videos of the shooting. The videos depicted Flanagan slowly approaching the WDBJ crew before lifting a gun and firing upon them:
Marks reportedly denied Flanagan’s claims of racial discrimination, with BuzzFeed adding that the claims “could not be corroborated by anyone at WDBJ.” Similar to Marks’ insistence that Flanagan’s racial discrimination claims were fabricated, another TV producer who worked with Flanagan briefly at a station in Florida said he “made that crap up.”
On Wednesday morning, ABC News received a mysterious 23-page fax from someone claiming to be “Bryce Williams.” The fax was promptly turned over to appropriate authorities for confirmation. In excerpts since released by ABC, Flanagan claims he “put down a deposit for a gun on 6/19/15,” adding that the Charleston Church Massacre “happened on 6/17/15.” Flanagan cited the racism-fueled mass shooting as his tipping point. Elsewhere, in a section of the 23-page document reportedly entitled “A Suicide Note for Friends and Family,” Flanagan details physical and verbal abuse he says he endured for being a black gay man. According to ABC, Flanagan had previously attempted to contact the network via phone to “pitch a story.” He also called again on Wednesday, shortly after the shooting, but ultimately hung up.
After a chase involving local law enforcement, Flanagan was approached by authorities along I-66 and reportedly shot himself. Following conflicting reports, Flanagan has now been confirmed as dead by local authorities. Vicki Gardner, who has successfully exited emergency surgery, is in stable condition.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families involved in this horrific situation.