Suspect in Virginia TV news crew shooting has Bay Area ties

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015
Suspect in Virginia TV news crew shooting has Bay Area ties
A man who police say shot and killed a TV news reporter and cameraman in Virginia during a live broadcast has deep roots in the Bay Area, having spent his childhood and professional years here.

MONETA, Va. (KGO) -- A man who police say shot and killed a TV news reporter and cameraman in Virginia during a live broadcast has deep roots in the Bay Area, having spent his childhood and professional years here.

VIDEO: Remembering TV reporter Alison Parker, cameraman Adam Ward

Virginia police say the shooter, 41-year-old Vester Flanagan, was a former colleague of 24-year-old Alison Parker and 27-year-old cameraman Adam Ward at WDBJ-TV in Roanoke, Virginia. He went by Bryce Williams on air. Officials confirmed late Wednesday morning that Flanagan died at the hospital from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Hours after the shooting Virginia State Police located Flanagan's car and pursued him for a couple of minutes before his car crashed off the road. He was found suffering from a self-inflicted gunshot wound and was airlifted to a local hospital where he later died.

READ MORE: Celebrities, politicians express support for WDBJ after shooting

"This gentleman was disturbed at way things had turned out at some point in his life. Things were spiraling out of control," Franklin County Sheriff W.Q. "Bill" Overton Jr. said at a news conference.

A third victim, Vicki Gardner, underwent emergency surgery and is currently recovering in stable condition with non-life threatening injuries.

PHOTOS: Reporter, cameraman shot to death in Virginia

San Francisco State University officials confirm that Flanagan graduated with a degree in broadcast journalism in 1995. No further details about his time at the university have been released. No one that ABC7 News spoke with on campus seemed to remember or know of him.

While in school he worked as an intern for KPIX in San Francisco from 1993 to 1995. He was there first as an intern and then as an assistant for the assignment desk. He lists his duties, among others, as pitching stories.

Before SFSU, Flanagan graduated from Skyline High School in Oakland and was voted homecoming prince his junior year. The district confirmed that he graduated from there in 1991.

As to his work history, after leaving the Bay Area he moved around the country. For several months in 1995 he was a general assignment reporter in Midland, Texas. He spent two years reporting in Savannah, Georgia and then another year in Tallahassee, Florida.

READ MORE: What we know about the TV news crew shooting suspect

Eventually he got out of the business and worked for Bank of America as a fraud investigator. ABC7 News has not yet pinned down where that job was. But we have confirmed that he moved back to California in August 2001. PG&E says he spent a year with them as a customer service representative.

Then from 2002 to 2004 he went back to reporting in Greenville, South Carolina.

His longest job was from 2004 to 2012 in Sacramento. It was a seven-year stint at a company called NDG Interactive.

Finally in 2012, he went to WDBG as a multimedia journalist. That's a person who reports, shoots, and edits his own stories.

He left there in 2013 and from that point on, his LinkedIn page goes blank with no other history until what happened on Wednesday.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe says the shooter was a "disgruntled employee."

Local TV station WDBJ, a CBS affiliate serving the Roanoke-Lynchburg television market, confirmed that the reporter and cameraman were fatally shot on air when a gunman opened fire during a report about tourism at a shopping center during their morning broadcast.

The victims were reporter Alison Parker, 24, and cameraman Adam Ward, 27. Jeffrey A. Marks, the station's general manager, described how it happened.

"Alison screamed and started running away. By that time we believe Adam was already shot. Alison was shot as she ran away," Marks said.

Police say they are still working to determine a motive and in a later broadcast Marks said Flanagan had to be escorted by police out of the station when he was fired. Marks went on to describe Flanagan as "an unhappy man," "difficult to work with," always "looking out for people to say things he could take offense to."

"Eventually after many incidents of his anger coming to the fore, we dismissed him. He did not take that well," Marks explained.

Video posted hours after the shooting on Bryce Williams' Twitter account and Facebook page showed an outstretched arm holding the handgun and firing repeatedly at Parker as she tried to run away.

The shooter appeared to walk up to the victims and stand a few feet away from them while holding the weapon. The three, in the midst of a live TV interview, do not seem to notice the gunman, who doesn't start shooting until Ward points the camera at Parker.

Parker grew up in Martinsville, Va., and attended Patrick Henry Community College and James Madison University. She previously worked at WCTI NewsChannel 12 in Jacksonville, North Carolina, near Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. She was an avid kayaker and attended community theater events in her spare time. Ward, the cameraman, attended Salem High School and Virginia Tech, the station reported.

Her father, Andy, released the following statement:

"Barbara, Drew, and I are numb, devastated and I find my grief unbearable. Alison was our bright, shining light and it was cruelly extinguished by yet another crazy person with a gun. She excelled at everything she did and was loved by everyone she touched. She loved us dearly, and we talked to her every single day. Not hearing her voice again crushes my soul. Our family can only take solace in the fact that although her life was brief, she was so happy with it. She lived it to the fullest and her spirit will always be with us."

Marks said that both victims were in relationships with other members of the station's staff. Parker reportedly brought in balloons Wednesday morning for Ward's fiancee, who was celebrating her last day on the job.

An anchor for the station, Chris Hurst, wrote on social media that he was Parker's boyfriend, posting a tribute to her.

"We have other members of the team with us today holding back tears, frankly," Marks said.

Marks also reflected on the dangers of live reporting.

"You send people into war zones, you send people into dangerous situations, riots, and you worry that they're going to get hurt. You send somebody to do a story on tourism, how can you ever expect something like this to happen?" he said.

The shooting occurred when the team was covering a story at Bridgewater Plaza, a recreational facility with shops, restaurants, a mini golf course and boat rentals, ABC News reports. Moneta is about 25 miles southeast of Roanoke.

Two hours after the shooting ABC News received a 23-page fax from someone claiming to be Bryce Williams. In the document the writer says "MY NAME IS BRYCE WILLIAMS" and his legal name is Vester Lee Flanagan II." He writes what triggered today's carnage was his reaction to the racism of the Charleston church shooting:

"Why did I do it? I put down a deposit for a gun on 6/19/15. The Church shooting in Charleston happened on 6/17/15..."

"What sent me over the top was the church shooting. And my hollow point bullets have the victims' initials on them."

It is unclear whose initials he is referring to. He continues, "As for Dylann Roof? You (deleted)! You want a race war (deleted)? BRING IT THEN YOU WHITE ...(deleted)!!!" He said Jehovah spoke to him, telling him to act.

The fax was handed over to authorities and out of an abundance of caution the NYPD has increased security outside TV stations in New York City, including WABC.

Click here for full coverage on the Virginia TV news crews shooting.

ABC7 News reporter Wayne Freedman contributed to this report.