A Virginia TV news reporter and cameraman were shot dead during a live broadcast Wednesday morning, an incident that has made headlines and stunned TV journalists across the country.
Police in Moneta, Va., said they are searching for a male suspect who opened fire on reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward as the pair were delivering a live report at about 6:45 a.m. ET. The two were employees of CBS affiliate WDBJ-TV in Roanoke, Va.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said the suspect was believed to be a disgruntled former employee of WDBJ. CNN and the Associated Press reported that police were searching for Vester Lee Flanagan II, 41, of Roanoke. Employees of WDBJ were told to stay inside the building for their safety. “Police have advised us that as long as this person is on the loose, we should stay in the building. We have police protection,” WDBJ president-general manager Jeffrey Marks told the AP.
“Law enforcement personnel have a photo of the suspect. We believe it’s a disgruntled employee of the station, and they’re in pursuit,” McAuliffe told Washington, D.C., news radio station WTOP.
Parker was 24. Ward had just turned 27, according to WDBJ.
The two were reporting from Bridgewater Plaza in Moneta, Va., a shopping district near Smith Mountain Lake that is about 26 miles east of Roanoke. Parker was delivering a report on the 50th anniversary of the man-made lake. A woman that Parker was interviewing at the time was also injured in the attack and was undergoing surgery, according to WDBJ.
Marks said the gunman was thought to have fired six or seven shots. In an emotional on-air report, Marks called the incident “a terrible crime against two fine journalists.”
Another WDBJ anchor, Jean Jadhon, fought back tears while discussing the pair and noted “you can hear people behind us in the newsroom crying.” She said the shock was magnified by the fact that the two were covering a light local feature story in an area that was not seen as remotely dangerous.
Mike Cavender, executive director of the Radio-Television News Directors Assn., said the incident underscores the growing vulnerability for news crews in the field, no matter the situation.
“Tragically, these shootings are the worst example in a continuing series of attacks on live television crews,” 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.”
Gordon Smith, president of the National Assn. of Broadcasters, called the deadly shootings “heartbreaking and horrifying.”
Parker and Ward “were two young journalists who were simply trying to serve and inform their communities,” Smith said. WDBJ is owned by South Bend, Ind.-based Schurz Communications, which owns 10 TV stations and a handful of small cable operators serving small markets.
As seen in the video below, Parker was interviewing Vicki Gardner, executive director of the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce, about the recreation business around the lake when shots rang out. Parker and the interview subject screamed and began to run. Viewers heard continued screams, saw the camera fall and got a very brief glimpse of what are believed to be the legs of the gunman.
There was a glimpse of the gunman on the live TV broadcast captured by the camera when it dropped to the floor.
The station then cut away to a stunned news anchor, Kimberly McBroom, in the studio. “Not sure what happened there,” she said.
Parker had recently celebrated her 24th birthday. She had been dating another WDBJ employee. Ward was engaged to be married to Melissa Ott, a producer of WDBJ’s morning news show. Wednesday marked Ott’s last day of work at WDBJ as she and Ward were preparing to move out of the region for a new job that Ott had accepted, according to WDBJ.
Parker brought balloons to the office early Wednesday as a going-away present for Ott, WDBJ said.
Parker was described by colleagues as a “rock star” reporter who had started at the station about four years ago as an intern. She moved on to work a different station for a few years and then returned to WDBJ as a full-time reporter about a year ago.
Ward was described as a dedicated journalist who had worked for the station for several years. He was remembered as a big fan of Virginia Tech’s football team.
Marks noted that the station’s news team had intended to have meetings this afternoon to salute Ott on her final day and plan for the future of the morning newscast. But the bizarre twist of fate has now turned those meetings into a memorial for two slain colleagues.
“This kind of loss will resonate around these halls for a long, long time,” Marks said.
WARNING: The video below could be disturbing to some viewers.
Here is the on-air tribute the WDBJ team paid to Parker and Ward: