UPDATE: A man sought by authorities in the on-air murders of a Virginia TV reporter and cameraman has died after shooting himself Wednesday morning on Interstate Highway 66, according to media reports.
Initial reports from Virginia State Police said the suspect, Vester Flanagan, 41, had died at the scene but officials quickly issued an update saying that he was in critical condition and had been taken to a hospital. Flanagan was pronounced dead at 1:26 p.m. ET, according to state police.
According to Virginia State Police, the suspect was heading eastbound on the highway shortly before 11:30 a.m. ET when he refused to stop when a trooper tried to initiate a traffic stop. A few minutes later, the suspect’s car ran off the road and crashed. Troopers found the suspect suffering from a gunshot wound when they approached the car. He was taken to a hospital for what police called life-threatening injuries.
The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office is scheduled to hold a news conference at 2 p.m. ET in Hardy, Va., near the site of the shootings.
The suspect is a former on-air reporter for WDBJ-TV Roanoke. He is believed to have opened fire Wednesday morning while two former station colleagues were delivering a report for the station. The attack left reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward dead, and injured a woman who was being interviewed at the time of the live broadcast.
Police began a manhunt for the shooter that was assisted by the eerie footage of the gunman pointing a gun at the camera that fell to the ground after Ward was shot.
Flanagan, who was known on-air as Bryce Williams, meanwhile allegedly posted his own video of the shootings on Twitter and Facebook before the accounts were suspended.
YouTube has also been quick to remove videos posted of the WDBJ-TV news report in which the attack occurred.
“Our hearts go out to the families affected by this terrible crime. YouTube has clear policies against videos containing gratuitous violence and we remove them as soon as they’re flagged,” a YouTube spokesman said.
Facebook noted its policy of prohibiting users “from celebrating any crimes you’ve committed.”
According to CNN, Flanagan’s most recent Twitter messages read: “I filmed the shooting see Facebook.”
The New York Times reported that Flanagan had filed a complaint against the station with the Equal Opportunity Commission, claiming he had been subjected to racist comments in the workplace. WDBJ president-general manager Jeffrey Marks told the Times that the station found no corroboration for Flanagan’s complaints after an investigation. Marks said Flanagan was fired two years ago because he was prone to angry outbursts.
Meanwhile, ABC News said that it received a fax from someone claiming to be Bryce Williams some time between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. Thedocument was 23 pages and ABC News turned it over to authorities, the network said.
The bizarre incident began at around 6:45 a.m. ET Wednesday when Parker and Ward were delivering a report for WDBJ’s morning news program from Bridgewater Plaza, a shopping center at Smith Mountain Lake. Shots rang out as Parker was interviewing the head of the area’s chamber of commerce, Vicki Gardner. Gardner underwent surgery for her injuries.
After Ward and his video camera fell to the ground, the camera captured a brief image of a man pointing a gun at the ground. WDBJ posted the image on its website Wednesday and initially asked for the public’s help in identifying the gunman.
Employees of WDBJ were ordered by police to stay inside the station building Wednesday morning during the hunt for the suspect, Marks said.
According to the messages as reported by CNN, Flanagan’s tweets suggested there had been conflict between Flanagan and Ward.
“Adam went to hr on me after working with me one time!!!”
“They hired her after that ???”
The incident has shocked news organizations around the country, and it has renewed calls for tighter gun control laws.
“It should not be normal in this country that people are shot and killed while doing their job, or studying in class, or watching a movie,” said Colin Goddard, senior policy adviser for the non-profit org Everytown for Gun Safety. He’s a survivor of the 2007 rampage on the campus of Virginia Tech University that left 32 dead.
“Leaders in the Commonwealth and in our country can no longer sit idly by while more Americans are gunned down. It is time that they act to protect Americans and do more to keep guns out of dangerous hands. We deserve better,” Goddard said.