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Bishop ‘shocked and saddened’ by on-air murders

27 August 2015


Reflecting: WDBJ-TV7 news anchor Kimberly McBroom receives a hug from visiting anchor Steve Grant (left), as meteorologist Leo Hirsbrunner takes a moment after their early-morning news broadcast, at the station's studios in Roanoake, on Thursday

Reflecting: WDBJ-TV7 news anchor Kimberly McBroom receives a hug from visiting anchor Steve Grant (left), as meteorologist Leo Hirsbrunner takes...

THE fatal shooting, live on air, of a TV reporter and cameraman, has left the diocese of Southwestern Virginia “shocked and saddened”, the Bishop, the Rt Revd Mark Allen Bourlakas, has said.

Vester Flanagan shot dead his former colleagues Alison Parker, a 24-year-old reporter, and Adam Ward, a 27-year-old camerman, during the live filming of an interview in Moneta, Virginia, at 6.45 a.m. local time.

He uploaded his film of the murders to Facebook, and sent a 23-page fax to ABC News, in which he claimed that “what sent me over the top was the church shooting”, referring to the murder of nine black people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston in June (News, 19 June).

He was apprehended by the police four hours after the murders, but died in hospital after shooting himself.

While Mr Flanagan remained at large, Trinity Ecumenical Parish in Moneta was used as a “staging area” by emergency personnel, supported by the Pastor, the Revd Dr Philip A. Bouknight, and his congregation. In an online letter, Bishop Bourlakas urged clergy to pray “for Philip, for Trinity, for the Moneta community, and the families of all those impacted by this violence, and to be open and prepared to provide some pastoral care and/or assistance if I need to call on you.”

Before his death, Mr Flanagan, who as a broadcaster used the name Bryce Williams, used Twitter to claim that Miss Parker had made “racist comments”, and that he had filed a report about this to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Mr Ward had complained about him to the human resources department, he claimed.

In his letter to ABC he 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.”

The general manager of the station for which both the killer and his victims had worked, WDBJ7, Jeffrey Marks, confirmed yesterday that Mr Flanagan had been fired nearly two years ago. He described him as “a difficult person for a lot of people to work with . . . Eventually after many incidents of his anger coming to the fore we dismissed him. He did not take that well and we called the police to escort him from the building.

“Since then, well, he then fired an action with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in which he made all kinds of complaints. . . None of them could be corroborated by anyone. We think they were fabricated.”

After announcing the deaths of his two employees live on air yesterday morning, he said: “You send people into war zones or riots, and you are worried they are going to get hurt. You send someone out to do a story about tourism, and how can you ever expect something like this to happen?”

Miss Parker’s boyfriend, Chris Hurst, an anchorman at the same station, revealed on Twitter that they had been planning to get married. Mr Ward’s fiancée, Melissa Ott, a producer at the station, was talking to him from the control room when he was shot.

Miss Parker’s father, Andy Parker, told reporters: “I don’t know if there’s anybody in this world or another father who could be more proud of their daughter.”

The US President, Barack Obama, remarked afterwards: “It breaks my heart every time you read or hear about these kinds of incidents.” He appealed to the American people to lobby for gun-law reform.

“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.                      

WDBJ7 has established a scholarship in memory of Miss Parker, and is planning one for Mr Ward. A tribute has been created. 

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