MONETA, Va. (AP) — A television reporter and cameraman were shot to death on live television Wednesday in Virginia by a gunman described as a disgruntled station employee. As the camera fell to the ground, it captured a glimpse of the shooter, who was being chased by police.
Reporter Alison Parker was interviewing an economic development official about local tourism as eight shots rang out. She screamed, ran and could be heard saying “Oh my God,” as she too was shot. Adam Ward’s camera captured a fleeting image, including the face, of a man holding a handgun.
The station quickly switched back to a shot of the anchor back at the station, her eyes large and jaw dropping as she said, “OK, not sure what happened there. We will of course let you know as soon as we find out what those sounds were from.”
The suspect is Vester Lee Flanagan II, 41, of Roanoke, said Becky Coyner with dispatch and records at the Augusta County Sheriff’s Office.
Law enforcement personnel were in hot pursuit, with multiple vehicles following him closely down Interstate 64 at one point.
“They’re right behind him,” he said during an appearance on WTOP-FM’s “Ask the Governor” Wednesday morning.
Federal law enforcement was assisting, and federal officials said there was no indication of a connection to terrorism.
The shooting happened around 6:45 a.m. at Bridgewater Plaza in Franklin County, as Parker interviewed Vicki Gardner about the upcoming 50th anniversary festivities for Smith Mountain Lake, a local tourism destination. Gardner also was wounded.
Both the victims were romantically involved with other employees at the station, according to Parker’s boyfriend, WDBJ anchor Chris Hurst.
Parker had just turned 24. She had just completed a special report on child abuse at the station, where she had worked as an intern. She attended James Madison University, where she was the editor of the school’s newspaper, The Breeze. According to her Facebook page, Parker spent most of her life outside Martinsville, Virginia. She was an avid kayaker and attended community theater events in her spare time.
Hurst said they hadn’t shared their relationship publicly but “were very much in love.” He said they had just moved in together and wanted to get married. “I am numb,” he said.
Ward, 27, graduated from Virginia Tech University and was engaged to a producer at the station, Melissa Ott, said WDBJ spokesman Mike Morgan.
“Adam was our go-to guy. He pretty much was available to do anything that we asked,” Morgan said. “He did live shots during our morning show for several years.”
The station is based in Roanoke, Virginia, and serves the southwest and central part of the state. The shopping mall where the incident happened is just off Smith Mountain Lake in Moneta, about 25 miles southeast of Roanoke.
Police have told employees of the station to stay inside the building as long as the suspect is on the loose. About 50 people work there, Marks said.
“We have police protection,” Marks said.