Slain TV reporter’s boyfriend asks for dialogue over gun violence

28 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Anchor’s Shock at Live TV Slayings Shifts to Poise, Strength.

ROANOKE, Va. (WNEW/AP) — On the day he was fired from a Virginia TV station, Vester Flanagan pressed a wooden cross into his boss’ hand as two police officers walked him to the door. “You’ll need this,” he said.

It was 6:45 a.m., and McBroom told her viewers in southwest Virginia that the staff at the Roanoke TV station were approaching a moment “none of us will forget.” “It was yesterday around this time that we went live to Alison Parker and photojournalist Adam Ward,” McBroom said, tremors of emotion creeping into her voice as she and other station staffers held a 30-second, on-air moment of silence.The colleagues of two journalists shot to death on live television returned to their morning show Thursday with memories, tears and a determination to carry on. “We come to you with heavy hearts.ROANOKE (Virginia) • On any other day, Ms Nadine Maeser would have been out and about, doing her job, covering the darker side of southern Virginia for WDBJ-TV.

More than two years later, Flanagan — fulfilling a threat to put his conflict with co-workers into “the headlines” — gunned down two station employees during a live morning broadcast, one of them a cameraman who had filmed his firing. The father of WDBJ reporter Alison Parker, who was shot dead by a former colleague in Virginia on Wednesday, echoed calls from relatives in other recent shootings by demanding lawmakers put aside worries over supposed constitutional protection for gun ownership and the lobbying power of the National Rifle Association. “Look, I’m for the second amendment [the right to bear arms], but there has to be a way to force politicians that are cowards and in the pockets of the NRA to come to grips and make sense, have sensible laws so that crazy people can’t get guns,” Andy Parker told CNN on Thursday. “It can’t be that hard.

But as station employees struggled Thursday to explain the events that framed Flanagan’s anger, others who had run across the gunman in the time since he lost his job at WDBJ-TV described a man whose hair-triggered temper was increasingly set off by slights that were more often imagined than real. McBroom was the anchor on duty at the station Wednesday morning when the pair were shot and Ward’s camera tumbled to the ground, capturing Flanagan marching forward with a gun in his hand before the feed cut back to an astonished McBroom at the anchor desk.

The owners of a shopping plaza where two journalists were fatally shot on air have replaced the floorboards in a breezeway where the shooting occurred. Perhaps the most poignant segment came when McBroom, weatherman Leo Hirsbrunner and an anchor from a sister station who came to help out joined hands for a moment of silence at 6:45 a.m., 24 hours after the shots rang out. Ms Maeser told Agence France-Presse she was just rolling out of bed at the crack of dawn when she received a telephone call from her news director, telling her to rush to work immediately. She led a two-hour “Mornin'” show in tribute to Parker and Ward on Thursday, then kept at it, taking reporters’ questions outside the studio, answering the phone and planning for the next day’s broadcast. He contacted ABC News about what he claimed was a story tip and filled his Facebook page with photos and video montages seemingly designed to introduce himself to a larger audience.

He also apparently sent an angry manifesto to ABC News complaining about workplace bullying and praising the mass shootings at Virginia Tech and Columbine High School. A woman who worked with Vester Flanagan at an insurance company’s call center says she had a confrontation with him that frightened her enough to report it to the company.

This can’t happen any more.” In the aftermath of Wednesday’s horrific shooting in the town of Moneta, near Roanoke, some gun reform activists expressed hope that the gruesome circumstances of the crime – which was broadcast live on TV and then posted to social media – might finally shock a numbed political class into action. On Wednesday, Flanagan killed 24-year-old Alison Parker, a reporter for WDBJ, and cameraman Adam Ward, 27, while the two conducted a live interview for the station’s morning broadcast, then went online to claim that they had wronged him in the past. In the rental car Flanagan crashed after a police chase, investigators found multiple license plates, a wig and 17 stamped letters, according to a search inventory released by officials Thursday. Local clergy led prayers, and a barbecue trailer set up shop, with proceeds from its hotdog and hamburger sales earmarked for the two victims’ families. Across the nation, Flanagan’s on-air shooting and social media posts launched debates over whether media outlets should amplify the thoughts and actions that a killer specifically wanted the public to see.

Ms Parker and Mr Ward were the youthful, energetic and ambitious early morning reporting duo at WDBJ-TV, a CBS affiliate that covers mainly rural southern Virginia with an editorial staff of about 50. The shoe’s on the other foot.’ He said, ‘You don’t know me well enough to judge me.'” The Virginia medical examiner’s office says the man who fatally shot a TV news reporter and cameraman died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

Ms Parker was dating WDBJ-TV’s evening anchor Chris Hurst, while Mr Ward was engaged to morning show producer Melissa Ott, who was working her last day before taking up a new job at a bigger TV station in Charlotte, North Carolina, with Mr Ward to follow her later. After a gunman killed 32 people and wounded 17 others in that campus shooting, an aggressive campaign for tougher gun laws swept the state of Virginia – but much like efforts at the federal level, they remain stymied. Others decided to republish the images, including the New York Daily News, which covered its Thursday front page with three freeze frames showing the moment Flanagan opened fire on a visibly shocked Parker. The show featured a series of news segments on the shooting, as well as images of Ward and Parker’s assignments together, and McBroom thanked Steve Grant, who arrived from a station in Missouri to help.

National reform efforts, first championed by Barack Obama and more recently by Democratic presidential candidates such as Hillary Clinton, have focused on passing legislation to close loopholes in the system of background checks required to buy a gun. Spokeswoman Nancy Bull says an autopsy on 41-year-old Vester Flanagan was conducted Thursday morning at the medical examiner’s office in Manassas, Virginia.

As a fellow New Jersey native and close friend, it fell on Ms Maeser to console her throughout the day. “Having to witness anyone being murdered, it’s not easy,” Ms Maeser said. “But your loved one? But officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms revealed on Thursday that Flanagan had passed a background check and bought the murder weapon used in Wednesday’s shooting, a Glock handgun, legally. “I have no indication that anything was done illegally or improperly, or any shortcuts were made,” an ATF spokesman, Tom Faison, told the Roanoke Times. “He could be as mentally ill as the day is long,” he added, “but unless someone has been legally adjudicated as such, they can purchase a firearm.” It remains unknown to what extent Flanagan struggled with mental illness, if at all; when he worked at WDBJ7, a supervisor told him he should seek help and he showed a pattern of anger-related problems that eventually contributed to his firing from the station. Locally, the shooting tested the emotional and professional limits of WDBJ, where both victims were in romantic relationships with other staff members.

Hirsbrunner shared anecdotes about Ward’s practical jokes, including covertly placing candy wrappers on the desk that the weatherman saw while delivering his segments. Even proposed legislation on enhancing background checks, which fell five senators short of the 60 needed to proceed in Congress two years ago, is struggling to gain momentum. One of its original sponsors, Republican Pat Toomey, recently played down reports that the bill could be reintroduced and did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.

Instead, the NRA has swung behind a much watered-down bill suggested by Texas Republican John Cornyn that would merely encourage states to send more information on mental illness to a national database. After Flanagan shot himself but before he died at a hospital, the station’s manager admitted on camera Wednesday that he wasn’t sure whether he wanted Flanagan to live or die.

The proposed legislation is opposed by many gun reform groups as an empty distraction, but a version of it has recently been supported by New York Democrat Chuck Schumer. In Virginia, Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, has also struggled to push reforms through the state legislature despite making gun safety laws a cornerstone of his legislative agenda. Hurst recalled how people reacted to Ward’s voice. “It could light up a room; a deep bass baritone voice, but with a kindness and joy behind it,” he said. The governor, who is both a gun owner and vocal gun control advocate, on Wednesday vowed to renew his push for stricter gun laws in the wake of the Roanoke shooting. One woman’s husband, a law enforcement officer, “threatened to come in and beat the stuffing out of the guy if he talked to her that way again,” said Leval, now a sports reporter and anchor at KTVA in Anchorage, Alaska.

The station showed concern for the thousands of viewers whose morning routines were suddenly disrupted by horror by interviewing a grief expert for a segment on coping with tragedy. In internal memos made public as part of the lawsuit, the station’s then-news director Dan Dennison detailed several episodes in which Flanagan had used hostile dialogue and body language with co-workers, especially photographers.

But the Republican-controlled state legislature in January blocked any new gun laws from clearing even a senate committee, choosing instead to advance bills that loosened certain restrictions on firearms. In one July 2012 memo, Dennison ordered Flanagan to undergo employee counseling or lose his job for creating a “hostile work environment,” which officials said Flanagan completed. He praised WDBJ staffers for showing that it’s OK to be overcome with grief in times of tragedy. “This is a family here,” Milam said. “And it’s not something that’s easily created. Obviously, that’s the culture of this place, that it’s not just a business or an organization, but it is a family.” As the two-hour show went on , a memorial grew outside the station, with balloons, flowers, candles and even a Virginia Tech sweatshirt, honoring Ward’s stalwart devotion to his alma mater.

Jessica Albert fondly remembered how Parker used to ask her to pitch stories about Marines in Mississippi to her boss so that Parker could then use the footage in the Jacksonville, North Carolina, market. Flanagan’s conflicts with others in recent years seemed to contradict the memory of some who recalled him as an outgoing student in Oakland, Calif., who was chosen junior prince at Skyline High School’s homecoming or as a classmate at San Francisco State University who relished being in the spotlight during group presentations. “He was such a nice guy, just a soft spoken, well dressed, good looking guy. The balloons Parker had given her to celebrate her departure were still in the newsroom Thursday. “That’s what we do,” she said. “I wanted to make sure that we told her story and his story, and we’re the ones that have to do that because we knew them and we loved them.” A cousin, Guynell Smith, 69, who was stopping by Flanagan’s father’s home in Vallejo, Calif., told reporters that the family was unaware of any troubles. “He was just a normal kid,” she said. “We knew Vester a different way.” But others who met Flanagan as he traced a career between TV stations and other employers in California, Florida, North Carolina and elsewhere recalled more troubling memories. KY3 anchor Steve Grant, KY3 reporter Eric Hilt and KSPR news director Bridget Lovelle have been sent for at least a few days, the Springfield News-Leader reported.

Grant was already on air Thursday morning as McBroom, the morning anchor, paid tribute to her colleagues and their final story, a light feature about the 50th anniversary of the man-made Smith Mountain Lake, about 25 miles southeast of Roanoke. “It was during a conversation with [Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce Executive Director] Vicki Gardner — about another reason why we love living here — when the peacefulness of our community was shattered,” McBroom said. “As we approach that moment, we want to pause and reflect, and we want to share with you once again what made these two so special, not just to us, but to all of our hometowns that WDBJ-7 serves,” she said. The disgruntled former reporter who killed two of his ex-colleagues wrote angry, rambling letters to a downtown Roanoke restaurant months before the attack. In seeking a search warrant for the car Flanagan was driving Wednesday, Virginia State Police had to give a magistrate in Fauquier (faw-KEER) County probable cause. “Investigators identified Vestor Lee Flanagan II as a person of interested based on a text message sent to a friend making reference to having done something stupid,” police wrote. Flanagan’s first name is spelled several different ways in the document. “When troopers attempted to stop the vehicle, the subject operating the vehicle failed to yield and was observed to place an object to his head,” police wrote.

The boyfriend of a television reporter who was slain during an on-air interview says the two met at a Christmas party for WBDJ last year and hit it off. Nearby, reporters and trucks from media outlets across the country lined up, doing their own live shots or working on stories about the shooting and the station. The statement from Andy Parker says: “Our vivacious, ambitious, smart, engaging, hilarious, beautiful and immensely talented Alison was taken from the world. Hirsbrunner said: “I don’t even know how to do weather on a day like this.” His voice trembled at times while he finished giving the temperatures around the Roanoke area. Senior Vice President of Broadcasting Marcia Burdick of parent-company Schurz Communications answered phones, greeted guests at the door, and did whatever she could to keep the newsroom moving.

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