MONETA, Va. — Reporter Alison Parker, 24, and video journalist Adam Ward, 27, were simply doing one of the most routine aspects of their jobs, a live remote report about the anniversary of a lakeside shopping plaza,when they were gunned down by one of their former coworkers, while thousands of people watched live on television.
Adding to the shocking tragedy, the gunman, Vester Lee Flanagan, 41, recorded the slaying on his smartphone and posted the video to social media after carrying out the cold-blooded attack. Now, the world is in shock, as mourning takes place among people who knew the two young journalists intimately as well as among people who never knew them at all.
The two were interviewing local Chamber of Commerce executive director Vicki Gardner about the shopping center during the WDBJ-TV morning show, at 6:43 a.m., according to police, when Flanagan shot all three. Parker and Ward were killed at the scene in Moneta, Virginia, about 25 miles southeast of Roanoke. Gardner, who took a bullet to the back, of at least eight bullets fired, was rushed to a nearby hospital, where she is expected to survive.
The other two victims did not perish without Parker running away in attempt to save her life, nor without Ward recording, in his final moment of life, a relatively clear picture of his shooter.
Immediately, police were on a manhunt, thanks to the gunman's image being captured. Flanagan, meanwhile, was trying to evade capture.
He'd gone by the name Bryce Williams when he had been on the air at WDBJ from 2012 - 2013. Around 11:15 Wednesday morning, a series of disturbing tweets started appearing on Bryce Williams's twitter feed: "Alison made racist comments," he wrote. Another post, seconds later, read, "Adam went to HR (human resources) on me after working with me one time."
That was soon followed by an unbelievable tweet.
"I filmed the shooting see Facebook," it said. Seconds later, video of the actual killing, recorded by the gunman himself, was posted on Facebook and twitter for the world to see. PIX11 News, like virtually every media outlet, is not showing that video. Facebook and twitter took the video down and shut down the Bryce Williams and Vester Flanagan pages, but not before people worldwide downloaded the video. The social media sites have been hard pressed to keep the video from being circulated.
Around 11:30 AM, the car that Flanagan used as a getaway vehicle, a gray Chevy rental that he'd booked one month ago for use on Wednesday, was spotted by Virginia state trooper Pamela Neff.
"Her license plate reader, [or] LPR, alerted to a license plate on a Chevrolet Sonic traveling east on [Interstate] 66," said Sgt. Rick Garlatts of the Virginia State Police at an early afternoon news conference. "She followed the vehicle a short distance, as troopers responded to assist her before she activated her lights."
"It was only a minute or two later," Garlatts said, that Flanagan crashed his car onto a roadside embankment. Trooper Neff pulled over.
"When Trooper Neff approached the vehicle," said Garlatts, "she found Flanagan suffering from a self-inflicted gunshot wound."
Gunman Vester Flanagan was transported by helicopter to a trauma center at a hospital forty miles away, in Fairfax, Virginia. He was in critical condition.
At 1:26PM, the hospital issued a statement to law enforcement. "The suspect from this incident, this shooting, died," said Bill Overton, Franklin County sheriff, at the news conference.
But it was the lives of the victims that are being so deeply mourned now. In deep grief are the station where Alison Parker and Adam Ward worked and their families and friends. Ward's fiancee watched the sudden tragedy happen from the WDBJ newsroom, where she worked as a producer.
Parker's boyfriend is an evening anchor at the station, and he tweeted out messages throughout the day about the loss. "I feel numb," he wrote in one tweet, in which he told viewers that the two had been living together for some time.
Parker's father also used the word numb in online postings to describe how his family is feeling following the tragedy.
Mourning as well is Overton, the sheriff, who's supervising the investigation.
"It has really stopped me in my tracks this morning," Overton said. "Like many viewers, I was watching this morning's broadcast, and couldn't understand what was happening myself at that time."
"Very emotional," he added.
Flanagan faxed a 23-page letter to ABC News, here in New York, shortly after the shooting, that was apparently written beforehand. In it, he said that he was gay, and cited his feeling slighted by whites and black men for being reasons for his actions.
An investigation is underway at Flanagan's home, at the scene of the shooting and at the scene of his self-shooting in an effort to fully establish a motive and other details of the case.