WDBJ slayings: Gunman Vester Flanagan packed disguises for getaway

28 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

De la Garza: Reporters are ‘sitting ducks’.

In an era when anyone can go online and find video of extremist beheadings, police shootings and other carnage, major news organizations applied their own standards to coverage of this week’s killing of a TV news crew in Virginia and showed only carefully selected portions of the footage.Colleagues of two murdered Virginia journalists wept, wore ribbons, held hands — and returned to work Thursday in the office where some watched the killings live.

Angry employees like self-described “powder keg” Vester Lee Flanagan, the onetime TV reporter who killed two former co-workers on live television Wednesday, are able to move from job to job because old bosses are too leery of legal action to talk when called for a reference, according to experts.TV news reporters in the field are “sitting ducks” for those looking to do them harm, a veteran Boston newscaster said yesterday as the horrifying plan of a deranged gunman who carried out an on-air double-murder came into focus. “They are there with an earpiece in and they are focused on communicating.

They were difficult newsroom decisions, informed by competitive pressures, questions of newsworthiness and taste, and an understanding that for all the talk about the great convergence of media, a fundamental difference still exists between TV and the Internet. “We went back and forth on this — whether to run it, not run it, or just use frame grabs,” said Al Ortiz, CBS vice president of standards and practices. “It’s not a decision you make lightly. Exactly 24 hours after a homicidal ex-colleague opened fire on Alison Parker and Adam Ward, staffers on the two-hour “Mornin’ ” show on WDBJ-TV paused for a 6:45 a.m. moment of silence. “We are different people this morning. The 41-year-old Flanagan’s career was checkered with baseless complaints against co-workers, lawsuits alleging racism and incidents of bullying and belittling colleagues at WDBJ-7, in Roanoke, Va.. Your support has been a lifeline for us.” Hirsbrunner, wiping away tears, honored the pair during his forecasts. “The sun will shine just as bright today as Alison and Adam,” he declared at one point.

But what authorities found in his car hints he considered remaining on the run: a briefcase with three license plates, a wig, a shawl, an umbrella and sunglasses. When it came time to fire Flanagan in February, 2013, the station’s human resources officials called the police to oversee Flanagan’s ouster, and co-workers hid in another room. And that on the day he was fired in 2013 from a Virginia TV station, he pressed a wooden cross into his boss’ hand as two police officers walked him to the door. “You’ll need this,” he said.

Prior to the shooting, Flanagan contacted ABC News about what he claimed was a “story tip” and filled his Facebook page with photos and video montages aimed at introducing himself to a larger audience. The TV station’s footage and the gunman’s were watched online in full by countless numbers of people around the globe as news executives decided what to show. Reminders of the lost colleagues were everywhere, from the balloons given to Ward’s fiancée on Wednesday to mark her last day at the station to the cameraman’s car still parked in the lot. Former station manager Dan Dennison said later in a deposition for a racial discrimination case Flanagan filed that she scene left employees terrified. “He repeated his feeling that firing him would lead to negative consequences for me personally and for the station,” Dennison said in the deposition for the case, which was dismissed. As authorities continued to investigate the shooting, family, colleagues and residents tried to cope with the brazen incident that hit the small southwest Virginia city — and figure out whether anything could have been done to stop it.

Before the shooting was three hours old, CNN began showing WDBJ’s footage of Parker conducting an interview and then trying to scramble away as gunfire erupted. Station General Manager Jeffrey Marks received 819 emails along with an uncounted number of phone calls from journalists around the world offering their condolences. Parker’s heartbroken father, Andy Parker, said yesterday he will be a “crusader” in the effort to expand gun control and that he “will not rest” until it’s harder for people with mental issues to get firearms. “I know the NRA, their position is going to be, and I can hear it now, ‘If they were carrying, this never would have happened,’ ” Parker said. “If Alison and Adam had been carrying an AK-47 strapped around their waist, it wouldn’t have made a difference. Don Shafer, Flanagan’s former boss at WTWC, called Flanagan a “pretty good reporter” but said “things started getting a little strange with him.” “We ended up having to terminate his contract and let him go for bizarre behavior and fighting with other employees,” Shafer said on San Diego 6, where he now serves as news director. Despite Flanagan’s rambling 23-page manifesto explaining his murderous motives, his old boss was stumped as to what went on after the February 2013 firing.

An employer may choose to communicate between the lines, answering “yes” or “no” in such a way that communicates their opinions without leaving a verbal trail. “Smaller places might just shoot from the hip and tell the truth,” said Seth Allcorn, a professor of professional practice at University of Missouri. “But they may have legal exposure if [the subject of the reference] finds out.” In the lengthy manifesto Flanagan sent ABC News shortly after the killings, Flanagan called himself a “powder keg” and accused WDBJ-7 of sinking his chances to land a job at a station in Pennsylvania. Fox News used no video or audio of the event during daytime hours but, after 6 p.m., used a combination of video before the attack, still photos and audio. Parker, 24, was interviewing a local chamber of commerce leader, Vicki Gardner, about the most benign of events — the 50th anniversary of the Smith Mountain Lake tourist community — when the shots rang out early Wednesday.

Once an employer unwittingly hires a volatile worker, supervisors face a minefield of delicate challenges, according to Allcorn, author of the 1994 book “Anger in the Workplace.” “You have to try to help them, and solve the problem in an incremental fashion,” said Allcorn. “But if the person is running out of control, eventually he does become a security issue. So there’s always been a very high standard of restraint.” The Associated Press provided to the public a version of the gunman’s video that froze when the shooting began, but continued with audio. At that point, you just say, “Well, we gave it a run.” Some six months before firing Flanagan, Dennison warned him in a memo that he “must make improvements immediately” or “face termination of employment.” He was singled out for an inability to work well with colleagues and for wearing a President Obama sticker while reporting on the 2012 election.

One had a gun raised and pointed at her, the other showed the moment the gun went off, and the third illustrated her horrified face when she saw what was happening. “I hate that I just saw NY Daily News cover,” tweeted Jeff Darlington, a reporter for the NFL Network. “What a repulsive decision. Then that.” “We feel passionately about strengthening gun control, imploring politicians to improve mental health services and highlighting the extraordinary scale of daily gun violence,” she said. “That is why we published the images — to convey the true scale of what happened in Roanoke.” Zuber said. “They cry, they hug, and then they get the job done.” Across the state and beyond, the shootings prompted a renewed debate on gun control. They said a background check was conducted, and there was nothing in Flanagan’s criminal or mental health history that should have prohibited the sale.

McAuliffe also took to the media to call upon lawmakers to tighten gun laws, prompting ire from some Republicans who noted that one measure the governor has pushed for would not have prohibited Flanagan’s purchase. Zuber, WDBJ’s news director, said her reporters would continue to confront the task of covering a story that they have an all-too-personal stake in.

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