The family of Vester Lee Flanagan, the man who fatally shot a Virginia news reporter and a cameraman on live television before committing suicide yesterday morning, is speaking out on the tragedy.
The reporter, 24-year-old Alison Parker, and the cameraman, 27-year-old Adam Ward, were in the field doing a live interview around 6:45 a.m. in Roanoke when Vester Lee Flanagan, a former employee of the CBS station, approached the group and began shooting. Ward and Parker died at the scene, and Vicki Gardner, the woman Parker was interviewing, suffered non-life threatening injuries. The shooting was captured on live television before Ward dropped the camera, and Flanagan also filmed the incident and uploaded it to social media. It has since been deleted. Flanagan fled before shooting himself in his vehicle around 11:30 a.m. He was taken to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead two hours later.
The family of Flanagan expressed their condolences to the families of the victims.
“It is with heavy hearts and deep sadness that we express our deepest condolences to the families of Alison Parker and Adam Ward,” the family said in a statement. “We are also praying for the recovery of Vicki Gardner. Our thoughts and prayers at this time are with the victims’ families and the WBDJ7 News family. Words cannot express the hurt that we feel for the victims.”
President Obama also issued a statement on the shootings, calling the tragedy heartbreaking and pushing for gun reform laws.
“What we know is that the number of people who die from gun-related incidents around this country dwarfs any deaths that happen through terrorism,” he said to an ABC news anchor.
Shortly after the shooting, the news station, WDBJ-TV, received a 23-page fax from Flanagan. The fax was a lengthy suicide note that explained his motive behind the shooting. Flanagan explains that he was largely driven by Dylann Roof, the shooter who killed nine African-Americans at Charleton’s Emanuel AME Church in June.
“Why did I do it?” he wrote. “I put down a deposit for a gun on 6/19/15. The church shooting in Charleston happened on 6/17/15…As for Dylann Roof? You [deleted]! You want a race war [deleted]? BRING IT THEN YOU WHITE [deleted].”
He praises both the Columbine shooters and Seung Hui Cho, who killed 32 students at Virginia Tech University in 2007, before explaining the reasoning behind taking his own life. He said as a gay, Black man, he had faced discrimination and harassment at work.
A spokesperson for the television station said that Flanagan was let go in 2013 for being difficult to work with and becoming easily offended by coworkers’ comments.
Both Parker and Ward were in relationships with other employees at the station. Their coworkers and managers remember them as happy people.
“[It’s] unthinkable,” Jay Webb, a former WDBJ employee who currently works at a nearby station, told ABC News. “It’s a very hard time in our newsroom here this morning, as it is, I’m sure, across newsrooms across the country this morning.”