The gunman responsible for the shooting deaths of a Roanoke, Virginia, television news reporter and photographer has died in a Virginia hospital, the Franklin County sheriff confirmed Wednesday.
Sheriff Bill Overton, speaking at a news conference in Moneta, Virginia, said a criminal homicide investigation is ongoing into the deaths of WDBJ reporter Alison Parker, 24, and news photographer Adam Ward, 27. The two journalists were shot and killed while doing a live report Wednesday morning.
Vester Flanagan II, the shooter and a former employee at the station known on air as Bryce Williams, was apprehended by Virginia state police several hours later, suffering from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Overton said. He was flown to an area hospital where he died around 1:30 pm ET. Overton said that a motive is still unclear at this time, but added that “obviously this gentleman was disturbed in some way.” The shooting occurred at 6:45 a.m. near Smith Mountain Lake in Moneta, Virginia, some 26 miles from Roanoke.
Flanagan appeared to have tweeted about Parker and Ward, claiming he had been the victim of discrimination and racist comments. His Twitter account has since been suspended.
WDBJ general manager Jeffrey Marks described Flanagan’s reputation in the office as someone “difficult to work with.” “He was sort of looking out for people to say things he could take offense to,” Marks said in an interview aired on the station. “After many incidents of his anger coming to the floor, we dismissed him. He did not take that well; we had to call police to escort him from the building.”
Personnel files from the station instructed employees to “call 911 immediately” if they saw Flanagan on company property, NBC News reported. Other files from the station quote him as saying upon being terminated, “You better call police because I’m going to make a big stink. This is not right.” Flanagan then had to be physically lifted from his chair by management, NBC News learned from court documents.
Ward reportedly recorded the confrontation at the time.
The cameraman and Parker were conducting a live recorded interview on Wednesday about tourism in the community when the sound of eight gunshots rang out. Screams could be heard as the video camera appears to fall to the ground, briefly capturing what appears to be an image of the gunman, before the broadcast switches back to the station’s anchor, seemingly uncertain of what had just happened.
Flanagan appeared to have shared graphic videos of the shooting on his social media accounts hours after the shooting while on the run from police. According to Sgr. Rick Garletts of the Virginia State Police, Flanagan refused to stop and continued to speed away when a trooper confronted him.
ABC News said that it received a 23-page fax from someone claiming to be Bryce Williams and had turned it over to authorities.
“The [Charleston] church shooting was the tipping point … but my anger has been building steadily … I’ve been a human powder keg for a while … just waiting to go BOOM!!!!” the document said, according to ABC News. NBC News has not independently seen the material sent to ABC.
Flanagan, who graduated from San Francisco State in 1995 with a degree in radio and television, had applied to jobs at NBC over several years. He also reportedly applied to a job at CNN and other news outlets.
During the violence, Flanagan also shot Vicki Gardner, the woman Parker had been interviewing when the incident occurred. Gardner underwent emergency surgery at Carilon Roanoke Medical Center and was in stable condition, according to a statement released by the hospital. She is continuing to undergo treatment from injuries sustained in the shooting, Franklin County Sheriff Bill Overton said.
Marks was emotional as he confirmed the tragedy on the air earlier Wednesday morning, saying that “our hearts are broken.”
Describing the shooting as a “terrible crime against two fine journalists,” Marks added: “How can this individual have robbed these families, the families of Alison and Adam, of their lives and their happiness and their love for whatever reason? They would brighten up a room every morning.”
Parker’s father, Andy Parker, described his grief as “unbearable” in an interview with The Washington Post. “Is this real? Am I going to wake up? I am crying my eyes out. I don’t know if there’s anybody in this world or another father who could be more proud of their daughter,” he told the paper.
Her mother, Barbara Bailey Parker, told WSLS that Parker loved her job. “It’s not something you expect. The family is in shock, it hasn’t sunk in,” she said. “People do crazy things and it’s a crazy world now. You just never think it’s going to happen to your family.”
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest Wednesday afternoon called for common sense legislation to reduce gun violence, which he says has become “all too common in communities large and small across the United States.”
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe released a statement later Wednesday on what he described as a “senseless tragedy.”
“We cannot rest until we have done whatever it takes to rid our society of preventable gun violence that results in tragedies like the one we are enduring today,” McAuliffe wrote.
Parker grew up in Martinsville, Virginia, and graduated from James Madison University’s School of Media Arts and Design. The family has set up a memorial fund at the university in her honor. Another anchor at the station, Chris Hurst, tweeted that he and Parker were “very much in love” and had just moved in together.
Ward had been working for the station since July 2011 following his graduation from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, according to his LinkedIn profile. He graduated with a degree in communications and media studies. He was engaged to Melissa Ott, a producer at the station.
Gardner is the head of the Smith Mountain Lake Chamber of Commerce and a prominent member of the community, local politician Curry Martin said Wednesday on MSNBC’s “The Rundown.”
“This is very unusual for an event like this to happen here,” said Martin, a Bedford County supervisor. “It’s never been no more than a fun place for people to go.”
Flanagan’s family released a statement on Wednesday evening offering their condolences to Parker’s and Ward’s families, as well as prayers for Gardner’s recovery. “Our thoughts and prayers at this time are with the victims’ families and the WBDJ7 NEWS family,” they wrote. “Words cannot express the hurt that we feel for the victims.”
GOP presidential candidates offered their condolences shortly after the shooting. Ben Carson, Gov. Mike Huckabee, Sen. Lindsey Graham, Jeb Bush, and Sen. Ted Cruz all took to Twitter to share their thoughts and prayers.
Hillary Clinton expressed her sadness and frustration on Twitter. “Heartbroken and angry. We must act to stop gun violence, and we cannot wait any longer. Praying for the victims’ families in Virginia. -H,” the Democratic front-runner tweeted.
Additional reporting by NBC News’ Cassandra Vinograd.