Law enforcement officials in Franklin County, Va., said Wednesday that the suspect in the live TV killings of a reporter and photographer appeared to be “spiraling out of control” before opening fire in an incident of violence that has rattled the nation.
Based on the preliminary investigation, suspect Vester Flanagan, who died around 1:30 p.m. ET from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, was clearly “disturbed” about situations in his life, Franklin County Sheriff Bill Overton said during a news conference Wednesday afternoon. He said that Flanagan seemed to be looking for ways to “take offense.”
Overton said officials are examining the 23-page document that Flanagan sent to ABC News within the past 24 hours for clues to his motive. Overton would not speculate about the specifics of his motive for killing WDBJ-TV reporter Alison Parker, 24, and cameraman Adam Ward, 27, during a live broadcast Wednesday morning.
Overton showed emotion as he emphasized that Parker and Ward were Roanoke residents who he had worked with on news stories in the past.
“The grew up in this area,” he said. “They were part of our community.”
He said that they were still trying to determine how Flanagan knew the location of the live shot.
Authorities said that after the shooting, Flanagan drove a 2009 Mustang to the Roanoke Airport, then left in a Chevrolet Sonic he had rented there. Via license plate readers, they were able to track his vehicle, and a state trooper located the car driving along Interstate 66. The trooper flashed emergency lights and attempted to stop the vehicle, but the suspect sped away. His vehicle ran off the road minutes later and crashed. It was then that they found him with a gunshot wound.
Vicki Gardner, the head of the local chamber of commerce who was being interviewed by Parker during the live shot, was described as in stable condition, said a spokesman for a Roanoke hospital.
ABC News said that a man claiming to be Bryce Williams, the name Flanagan used when he was employed by WDBJ, called the network over the past few weeks to pitch a story, but never said what it was. The network said they received a fax time stamped at 8:26 a.m., nearly two hours after the shooting, in which he said that reaction to the Charleston shootings in June “sent me over the top.” He also cited other mass shootings.
“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…” according to ABC News.
In the letter to authorities, which he called a “Suicide Note for Friends and Family,” Flanagan claimed he suffered racial discrimination, sexual harassment and bullying at work, and said he was attacked for being a gay, black man.
“Yes, it will sound like I am angry…I am. And I have every right to be. But when I leave this Earth, the only emotion I want to feel is peace….” he went on in the letter.”
“Also, I was influenced by Seung–Hui Cho,” he wrote, referring to the Virgina Tech mass killer, before referencing the Columbine High School killers. “That’s my boy right there. He got NEARLY double the amount that Eric Harris and Dylann Klebold got…just sayin.'”
ABC News said he called again a little after 10 a.m. and said that authorities are “after me,” but then hung up.
The network then called authorities and provided them with the fax.