Slain Journalist’s Father Says of Shooter: ‘He Was a Crazy Man That Got a Gun’

27 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Perigard: Assassin rewrites ‘mundane’ story.

MONETTA, Va. The news became personal for the CBS affiliate in Virginia when reporter Parker and cameraman Ward were fatally shot during a live broadcast Wednesday, forcing co-workers to balance the stunning tragedy with professionalism. “This is a hard day for all of us here at WDBJ7.And now you have one more thing to worry about, one more thing gnawing at the back of your head, and it’s not whether someone will sneak behind you and flip the bird at the camera.The 41-year-old suspected shooter, identified as Vester Lee Flanagan II, was believed to be a disgruntled former employee of the TV station, say police.

That’s how WDBJ7 General Manager Jeff Marks yesterday described the live segment on his station that was interrupted by gunfire from an embittered ex-employee and left reporter Alison Parker, 24, and cameraman Adam Ward, 27, dead and a local chamber of commerce official wounded. After the shooting Flanagan sent out a series of tweets alleging that Alison had been racist towards him in the past and that Adam had previously complained about him to HR. As he was escorted out, Flanagan, 41, a reporter known to viewers as Bryce Williams, gave a small wooden cross to his boss and said, “You’ll need this,” according to a witness’s account of his February 2013 firing in response to a lawsuit he filed alleging wrongful termination. Mr Marks described him as ‘an unhappy man’ and ‘difficult to work with’, always ‘looking out for people to say things he could take offence to’. Flanagan’s contentious 10-month reporting stint at Southwestern Virginia’s CBS affiliate, WDBJ (Channel 7), ended in much the same way several jobs had since 2000: with a trail of colleagues with whom he did not get along, poor job-performance evaluations citing his volatile behavior and at least two lawsuits alleging racial discrimination and unfair treatment.

What unfolded was familiar to any TV viewer: A recounting of the crime; news conferences with updates from authorities, and reaction from those who knew the victims. Marks, a newsman with 42 years experience, was suddenly thrust into the role of father figure to his news team and his audience, now stretching the nation, trying to explain the unthinkable. Flanagan also claimed that an unnamed white supervisor at the station said black people were lazy because they did not take advantage of scholarships to attend college. He points the gun at Parker and then at Ward, but he waits patiently to shoot until he knows that Parker is on camera, so she will be gunned down on air.

They say Williams filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EOCC) against Ms Parker, and that Mr Ward had reported Williams to human resources. The station generally denied the allegations of discrimination and said it had legitimate reasons for ending Flanagan’s employment, including poor performance, misbehavior with regard to co-workers, refusal to follow directions, use of profanity and budgetary reasons. The station in Virginia’s Roanoke-Lynchburg media market, however, left it other outlets to dwell on the footage from WDBJ’s unwitting broadcast of the shooting and, in a bleakly modern twist, apparent “selfie” video posted online by the alleged gunman. Mr Marks said Williams alleged that other employees made racially tinged comments to him, but said his EEOC claim was dismissed and none of his allegations could be corroborated. The station received calls for interview requests from media outlets in Russia and Australia, among others. “We are choosing not to run the video of that (the shooting) right now because, frankly, we don’t need to see it again.

That man, authorities said, was Flanagan — a former staffer who used the on-air name of Bryce Williams and was fired by WDBJ, a man who always was looking for reasons to take offense, colleagues recalled. In the suit, which was dismissed in 2014, Flanagan professed to have photos of a watermelon that he said appeared during a meeting with photographers. “The watermelon would appear, then disappear, then appear and disappear again, only to appear yet again,” he wrote. Wednesday’s on-air murders reverberated far from central Virginia because that’s just what the killer wanted — not just to avenge perceived wrongs, but to gain maximum, viral exposure. Then Marks, his hair disheveled but his emotions in check, put a stop to it, at least in those early, freshly painful moments. “We should probably go back to regular programming now, rather than prolonging this. He used his insider’s knowledge of TV journalism against his victims — a 24-year-old reporter who was a rising star and a 27-year-old cameraman engaged to a producer who watched the slaughter live from the control room.

The document reads more like a rant, contradictory and paradoxical, extolling mass killers, blaming his father for not being there after he was fired from a job in Florida on one page but praising him for his support on another. Flanagan’s planning may have started weeks ago when, ABC News said, a man claiming to be Bryce Williams called repeatedly, saying he wanted to pitch a story and needed fax information. In an age when video of crashes, shootings, fires and other tragedies is readily available and endlessly replayed, it was a decision — albeit it one influenced by personal loss — that other outlets often fail to make and for which they are roundly criticized. It expresses hatred for black males and white females whom he said he was “attacked by” but claims that the nine African Americans killed in the Charleston church shooting was his breaking point, writing that he put a deposit on a gun two days after the massacre. “What sent me over the top was the church shooting,” says the suicide note, a full version of which was obtained by The Washington Post. “And my hollow point bullets have the victims’ initials on them.” It was not clear whose initials he was referring to. While also complaining that he was “shunned” for being gay, Flanagan lauds Virginia Tech mass killer Seung Hui Cho and expresses admiration for the Columbine High School killers. “Cho was brilliant and smooth,” the note reads.

In it, a hand holding a gun is seen behind Ward for several seconds and then squeezes off shots at Parker. “At this point we don’t,” she said Wednesday evening. “We’ll review that as we go. Parker and Ward were a regular team, providing stories for the station’s “Mornin’ ” show on everything from breaking news to feature stories on subjects such as child abuse. Flanagan also said his firing from Roanoke caused “an awful chain of events,” including the death of his two cats that appears to have occurred at his hands. “I drove to the forest . . . and helped them exit.

Their live spot Wednesday was nothing out of the ordinary: They were interviewing a local official at an outdoor shopping mall for a tourism story before the shots rang out. Roxane Barker, 54, lived across the street, and like others, she called him “Little Vester.” She said the Flanagans were the third black family to move into the mostly white neighborhood. No.” Lee Wolverton, managing editor of The Roanoke Times, expressed the newspaper’s sympathy for the victims and its intention to provide complete coverage. Dan Dennison, now a state government spokesman in Hawaii, was the WDBJ news director who hired Flanagan in 2012 and fired him in 2013, largely for performance issues, he said. “We did a thorough investigation and could find no evidence that anyone had racially discriminated against this man,” Dennison said. “You just never know when you’re going to work how a potentially unhinged or unsettled person might impact your life in such a tragic way.” Court records and recollections from former colleagues at a half-dozen other small-market stations where he bounced around indicate that Flanagan was quick to file complaints.

During his time in Savannah, Flanagan used his legal name professionally, but Baker said eventually his colleagues found out he was using the name “Bryce Williams” socially. “He held up his hands and said ‘Bryce Williams,’ and made this motion like he was seeing it in lights: ‘That sounds so Hollywood,’ ” Baker said. Don Shafer, news director at XETV in San Diego, said on the air Wednesday that he had hired Flanagan at WTWC and later fired him for chronic “bizarre behavior.” “We brought him in, he was a good on-air performer, a pretty good reporter,” he told viewers, “and then things started getting a little strange with him.”

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