A disgruntled former employee of a Virginia TV station stalked and ambushed a news crew during a live interview Wednesday morning before opening fire, killing a reporter and photographer and wounding the woman being interviewed.
Vester Lee Flanagan II, 41, who went by the name Bryce Williams while working at the station, WDBJ, has been identified as the suspect. His name was initially reported as Lester Lee Flanagan.
Flanagan shot himself after being confronted by police, WHSV reports. He was taken to the hospital and died at about 1:25 p.m.
The gunman opened fire during a live interview with a member of the local Chamber of Commerce. Cameraman Adam Ward, 27, and reporter Alison Parker, 23, of WDBJ 7 TV, were killed. The woman being interviewed, Vicki Gardner, was also shot and wounded, the Roanoke Times reports. She is in surgery after being shot in the back. Gardner is the executive director at the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce.
He was later confronted by police in Fauquier County, about three hours away from where the shooting occurred.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. He Posted Video He Recorded of the Shooting on Social Media
He posted video of the shooting on his Facebook and Twitter pages. The video shows him approaching the victims, and pointing a gun at them. He is behind them for several moments as Parker interviews Gardner. He holds the gun out until Ward turns the camera back toward Parker and Gardner, and then begins firing. The camera then shakes and drops as he opens fire. The camera continues recording, with a black screen, as screams and several more gunshots are heard.
Flanagan fired 15 times, emptying the entire magazine of the Glock handgun he was carrying. He purchased the gun legally two weeks before the shooting.
WARNING: The video below shows the gunman opening fire. Viewer discretion is advised.
The shooting was also broadcast live on the air. That video is below, and again, is disturbing:
The shooting happened at about 6:45 a.m. Virginia State Police said his vehicle was spotted on Interstate 66 and tried to make a traffic stop.
“The suspect vehicle refused to stop and sped away from the trooper. Minutes later, the suspect vehicle ran off the road and crashed,” state police said in a statement. “The troopers approached the vehicle and found the male driver suffering from a gunshot wound. He is being transported to a nearby hospital for treatment of life-threatening injuries.
He also posted his apparent motive for the shootings on Twitter:
The Twitter account has been suspended.
2. He Told ABC He Was Inspired by the Charleston Church Shooting & Was a ‘Powder Keg’
On his Twitter account, he said Parker made racist comments. He also said Adam Ward went to human resources on him.
ABC News said it received a 23-page fax from someone named Bryce Williams after the shooting. ABC said it has shared the fax with police, and posted some of its contents Wednesday afternoon. The fax came about two hours after the shooting. He also called ABC twice in the hours after the shooting.
In the fax, Flanagan wrote, “Why did I do it? I put down a deposit for a gun on 6/19/15. The Church shooting in Charleston happened on 6/17/15 … What sent me over the top was the church shooting. And my hollow point bullets have the victims’ initials on them.”
He also referenced Virginia Tech shooter Seuing Hui Choi, calling him “his boy,” and expressed admiration for the Columbine High School shooters.
Flanagan wrote that he suffered racial discrimination, sexual harassment and bullying at work, because he was a gay black man.
“Yes, it will sound like I am angry…I am. And I have every right to be. But when I leave this Earth, the only emotion I want to feel is peace,” he wrote. “The 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!!!!”
3. He Was Fired by WDBJ in 2013 & Was Escorted From the Building by Police
Flanagan, often using the on-air name Bryce Williams, has worked at several news stations around the country, according to his LinkedIn page.
He worked at WDBJ from March 2012 to February 2013.
“Vester was an unhappy man. We employed him as a reporter and he had some talent in that respect and some experience,” WDBJ General Manager Jeff Marks said on the air. “He quickly gathered a reputation of someone who was difficult to work with. He was sort of looking out to people to say things he could take offense to. Eventually, after many incidents of his anger, we dismissed him. He did not take that well. We had to call police to escort him from the building.”
Reporter Joce Sterman of WJLA obtained documents from the lawsuit Flanagan filed against WDBJ after his filing:
Video from his career as a reporter was posted on YouTube:
Flanagan is originally from California and graduated from San Francisco State University. He previously worked at WNCT-TV as a reporter and anchor, WTWC-TV, WTOC-TV, KMID-TV and KPIX-TV.
His former boss at WTWC, in San Diego, Don Shafer, talked on his current news station, San Diego 6, about Flanagan, saying he was “a good on-air performer, a pretty good reporter,” but “things started getting a little strange.” Shafer hired Flanagan in 2000 and also fired him for “odd behavior” the same year.
“I know that there were some issues with him and his personality that kind of (spiraled) down, and that’s why we had to get rid of him,” Shafer told San Diego 6, adding that Flanagan got into arguments with co-workers. “I don’t want to say anything more about that, but … I didn’t see (a dangerous aspect) in his personality.”
4. He Was a Jehovah’s Witness & Worked as a ‘High Paid Companion’
Flanagan was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, according to his Twitter page.
He also said he once worked as a “high paid companion,” tweeting, “Hell yeah I’ve been a high paid ‘companion.’ You wish u could too!! Lol” Flanagan joined Twitter on August 12 and posted pictures from his high school graduation, from his time as a model and from other jobs he has held, in the days leading up to the shooting.
His father, Vester Flanagan Sr., played professional. football. He was a lineman at Humboldt State University and was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in 1960, TMZ Sports reports.
5. He Sued a Station Where He Previously Worked for Racial Discrimination
Flanagan previously sued a news station where he worked for racial discrimination.
According to federal court records, he sued WTWC-TV, a Tallahassee, Florida station, in 2000 for “discrimination and retaliation.” The case was dismissed.
Read the lawsuit below:
Flanagan had also filed an EEOC complaint against WDBJ after he was fired, seeking $15,000 in damages, but that was dismissed.
Read more about Vester Lee Flanagan in Spanish on AhoraMismo.com:
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