I can't believe it has been 5 years since this horrific tragedy happened. I remember reading about it immediately after it happened and seeing the video. I was so absolutely shocked, and still am, that this happened.
On August 26, 2015, while conducting a live interview near Smith Mountain Lake in Moneta, Virginia, news reporter Alison Parker and photojournalist Adam Ward were fatally shot by a disgruntled ex-employee who had been fired back in 2013. He also shot the interviewee, Vicki Gardner, who survived.
A 5-hour manhunt commenced for the killer, Lee Flanagan II. Eventually, he shot himself during a car chase with the police. He died later at the hospital.
On August 26, Alison and Adam were conducting a live interview with Vicki about an upcoming event for the 50th anniversary of Smith Mountain Lake.
On camera, the shooting began at about 6:46 AM, in the middle of the segment, which was being broadcast on WDBJ's morning news program, Mornin'. Video did not capture anyone being shot, but 8 shots were heard, followed by screams. Adam's camera fell to the ground, which captured Flanagan holding a Block 19 9mm pistol.
The production operators switched back to the Mornin' anchor, Kimberly McBroom, who was confused about what just happened. Initially, she believed that the noises were just a car backfiring, or gunshots in the background.
Adam and Alison died at the scene. Vicki was taken to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital and underwent surgery, but survived. Alison died from gunshot wounds to her head and chest, while Adam was shot to his head and torso. Vicki had been shot in the back after curling up, pretending to be dead.
Staff in the newsroom identified the gunman as Flanagan and alerted the county sheriff. He called and made a confession, but began running. Authorities were able to track him via his cell phone.
He abandoned his car at the airport and drove a rented car away for the 5 hour manhunt. However, he eventually was found inside of his car with self-inflicted gunshot wounds. He was declared dead at 1:26 PM.
Alison Parker was born on August 19, 1991. She grew up in Martinsville, Virginia and attended Patrick Henry Community College and James Madison University. She started at WDBJ in 2012 as an intern, before moving to WCTI-TV in North Carolina from December 2012 until May 2014. Then, she was hired back at WDBJ as a correspondent for their morning show, Mornin'.
Alison was in a serious relationship with a colleague at WDBJ, Chris Hurst, who posted after her death that they were very much in love, even though they didn't share their relationship publicly. He said they had just moved in together, and wanted to get married. "She was the most radiant woman I ever met. And for some reason she loved me back."
She had just turned 24 a few days before her death. Her father said that he and the family were "numb, devastated, and I find my grief unbearable." He said, "Alison was our bright, shining light and it was cruelly extinguished by yet another crazy person with a gun." He went on to say that she "excelled at everything she did and was loved by everyone she touched". He said they spoke every day, and that they can take some comfort in knowing she was so happy during her short life.
Alison was doing it all. She was adored by her family, was in a beautiful relationship, and was excelling in her career. "She had tremendous potential to achieve her dreams of reporting on a national stage," said one of her professors at James Madison University.
Alison loved whitewater kayaking, community theater, and Mexican food. She loved to spend time with her family. She was a wonderful woman with an equally wonderful future ahead.
Adam Ward was born on May 10, 1988 and grew up in Salem, Virginia. He attended Virginia Tech and graduated with a degree in communications and media studies. He had started at the station in July 2011 upon graduation as a videographer and sports reporter.
Adam was engaged to WDBJ producer Melissa Ott. The day her fiance was shot and killed was supposed to be her last day at WDBJ. She was moving to Charlotte to start a new job, and Adam was going to be following shortly after. "Today, my entire world was flipped upside down," she posted after the tragedy. "You were the one."
He was a fun loving sports fan, a journalist dedicated to his job, and an adoring fiancee. "He was just a big cheerful guy with a smile on his face," a coworker said, remembering his professionalism with a side of laughter.
A viewing was held for Adam at Salem High School, where hundreds of people attended, paying their respects to his grieving family. "His family is the kindest and most gentle-loving family you could have," Adam's 3rd grade teacher said, commending his parents for making him the wonderful man he was.
Vester Lee Flanagan was born on October 8, 1973, but went professionally as Bryce Williams. He took an internship with KPIX in San Francisco, a CBS affiliate, in 1993, before eventually starting as a production assistant and jews writer. He started working for WTWC-TV in Tallahassee, Florida from 1999-2000, but was fired in March for "odd behavior".
He was hired by WDBJ on April 19, 2012 as a multimedia journalist. Though he was an experienced reporter, he was known to have conflicts with other colleagues.
He was fired on February 1, 2013 after his volatile behavior made other people feel uncomfortable. Apparently, he and Adam had a confrontation earlier that day. Security was provided to the staff for a while after the incident after he lashed out upon hearing of his dismissal. Flanagan wrote a suicide note in which he claimed he killed his cats in a rage after being fired.
He began working at a UnitedHealth Group, where he continued to make coworkers feel uncomfortable. At home, his neighbors said he was arrogant and rude, and would throw cat poop at he homes of neighbors he didn't like.
Up until the shooting, he retained active social media accounts where he alleged racial discrimination against WDBJ for firing him. He also alleged that Alison made a racist remark against his friend, and that Adam had filed a complaint against him for his race.
On the day of the shooting, he recorded and uploaded it from his perspective, calling Alison a "bitch" before shooting.
At 8:26 AM, Flanagan sent a fax to ABC News with a 23-page document titled "Suicide Note for Friend & Family". The note described his grievances over racial discrimination and sexual harassment in his work place. He believed he was targeted for being a gay black man. He also claimed to have been provoked and further enraged by the Charleston Church Shooting.
President Barack Obama said he was heartbroken over the killings, as well as Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, who said the incident supported the need for tougher gun laws in the state.
Alison's father became an advocate on the issue of gun violence, urging politicians to strengthen gun laws. The shooting also brought out activism in Alison's boyfriend, Chris Hurst, who successfully ran for a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates with the priority of passing gun control legislation.
Because the shooting had happened live, on air, there was contention about how to handle airing the news of the tragedy. Viewers criticized news outlets for sharing the graphic images of the shooting on autoplay, without warning.
This incident is so absolutely heartbreaking and tragic. I knew that Adam Ward was engaged and due to be married soon, but did not know that his fiancee worked for the station and was producing the segment that he was shot during. I didn't know Alison was in a serious relationship with a reporter at the station. I absolutely cannot imagine.
This story is also an intersection of many issues. Of course, one of them is gun control. Stricter gun regulations are absolutely necessary. In this instance, it is hard to say specifically under what regulations would have prevented this. He hadn't committed a crime and had no history of violent behavior. However, he had been fired from at least 2 places for threatening behavior, security had to be called in to protect staffers after his violent dismissal, he threw feces at his neighbors... I don't know, I just think there should have been some roadblocks while trying to purchase a firearm.
There is also the issue of general male rage. This is not the first time a disgruntled employee, an angry separated husband, an abusive boyfriend purchased a gun to murder the objects of his rage. Of course, women do this too, but not nearly to the same extent. There are countless stories of men being fired or left or divorced or rejected that result in murder. Toxic masculinity and male rage are serious problems, especially when coupled with a firearm.
And lastly, there is the issue of having a victim complex. Now, I won't tell you that Flanagan didn't face any racism (or homophobia? It was kind of tossed in there that he may have been gay) in the workplace. I simply don't know. But it seems very clear that he wasn't fired for either of these things. His employers thought him to be an experienced journalist, but people were regularly feeling uncomfortable and threatened in his presence. At his new job at the UnitedHealth Group, a coworker of his casually pointed out that he was being quiet, and he aggressively responded "never talk to me again". He obviously had a real issue being professional, and a long string of employee complaints supports that he was rightfully fired.
But when you believe that you were fired for your race or your sexuality, it can absolutely add to your rage. So we have a man who believes he was wrongfully fired for things outside of his control, who already had poor temperament, with access to a gun. It was the perfect storm.
My heart breaks for the loved ones of Alison Parker and Adam Ward. I am devastated thinking of Alison's father who couldn't imagine a world where he didn't hear his little girl's voice every day who hasn't heard it for 5 years now. It breaks my heart to think of her boyfriend who has done exceptional things to pass legislation in the name of his beloved girlfriend, who should instead be married to the love of his life. Thinking about Adam Ward's fiancee's wedding dress coming in the same day as she would watch her fiance be killed on national television rips me apart. These people have gone 5 years without their loved ones who were killed in such an unexpected, horrifically tragic way.
Rest in peace, Alison Parker and Adam Ward. I hope your families are able to continue basking in the light you brought into their worlds without you physically here.