The on-air slayings of a Virginia TV news reporter and cameraman have sent a shudder through newsrooms across the country.
CNN anchor Brooke Baldwin took a moment during her coverage of the murders to share with viewers how the story “hits close to home.” Baldwin choked up in noting that she began her career at a small-town TV station “about 120 miles up the road” from WDBJ-TV Roanoke, where Alison Parker, 24, and Adam Ward, 27, worked.
Parker’s and Ward’s deaths at the hands of suspected gunman Vester Flanagan, 41, who also died Wednesday from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, mean “no weddings, no children, no future careers as journalists,” Baldwin said. Directing her comments to the pair’s families and colleagues at WDBJ, “as a fellow journalist, I want to tell you we are all with you, and I am so sorry,” she said.
The horror of the killings for the WDBJ team was magnified by the fact that Ward was engaged to be married to a producer of WDBJ’s morning show, Melissa Ott. Ott was believed to have been in the control room during the live broadcast in which he was gunned down.
Flanagan was also a former WDBJ news correspondent known on air as Bryce Williams. He was fired about two years ago because he was prone to angry outbursts, WDBJ-TV president and general manager Jeffrey Marks told CNN. At the time he was let go, Flanagan had to be escorted from the building by security, Marks said.
Parker had been romantically involved with another WDBJ news anchor, Chris Hurst, who disclosed that the pair had recently moved in together.
“I am numb,” Hurst said in a tweet that included a photo of himself and Parker.
The Radio-Television News Directors Assn. condemned the killings and said the incident highlighted the daily threat that journalists face as targets of violence, even in seemingly innocuous situations.
“Tragically, these shootings are the worst example in a continuing series of attacks on live television crews,” RTNDA exec director Mike Cavender said. “Safety and security of our people is always of paramount concern, but as these attacks show, such violence can occur even in the most unexpected of situations.”
The union that represents many TV news crew workers, the Communications Workers of America, said the “senseless tragedy” also put the spotlight on the need for companies to develop stronger policies for workplace safety.
“The threats journalists face on the job every day do not normally include their co-workers. But tragically, work-related shootings and other violence are not uncommon in the United States. Our members in the media sector and all of the Communications Workers of America are gravely concerned about this issue and committed to helping build safe workplaces,” said CWA secretary-treasurer Sara Steffens.
On social media, outrage at the killings and tributes to Parker and Ward flowed throughout the day from fellow journalists.
There was also much debate about the ethics of whether news organizations should air the shocking videos available of the incident — WDBJ’s own footage and the footage shared on social media through Flanagan’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. Those accounts were quickly suspended, and YouTube was also hastily removing videos of the WDBJ report that surfaced on the site through the morning.
CNN, for one, said it had decided against airing the disturbing footage. WDBJ-TV’s Marks said employees at his station were not emotionally equipped to replay the shocking report that aired at about 6:45 a.m. ET.