We often discuss the “perils of the press” in humorous stories of the unexpected for journalists. However, we are often reminded of the dangers faced by reporters in their daily jobs. Today offered one such tragic example from Moneta, Virginia. Vester Lee Flanagan, who used the name on-air of Bryce Williams, shot and killed WDBJ reporter Alison Parker, 24, and cameraman Adam Ward, 27. He then posted the filmed event and tweeted about it. It is a bizarre and chilling example of how social media has become intertwined with such crimes in our society. Flanagan later shot himself in a confrontation with police.
Flanagan (shown left) said that Parker made “racist comments” and that he had filed a complaint was filed against her through the equal employment opportunity commission. Ward had worked with Flanagan and he said that Ward had complained about having to work with him. He then shared his attack on Twitter. Parker, 24, and Ward, 27, died at the scene while the woman being interviewed was rushed to Roanoke Memorial Hospital for emergency surgery.
Ward was engaged to Melissa Ott, a news producer who was working on the show and watched from the control room as the shooting happened. This was her last day on the job because she was about to start a new job in Charlotte, North Carolina and Ward planned to move with her. The office-mates had just thrown a party that morning for her.
These cases often raise civil liability for the employer. While the criminal case is apparently closed given the statements and film of the deceased, families can sometimes sue over the failure of an employer to warn them or take some action. In this case, it appears that Flanagan is no longer working for the station so that insulates the studio to some extent. There can be questions however is anyone had reason to know of a violent predisposition or targeting of these victims. There is no indication of such forewarning or prior indications of violence at this time. This type of delayed and unhinged response is very difficult for anyone to foresee and an employer cannot monitor former employees for years.
I can only imagine the grief of these families and survivors when faced with such a senseless act. The chilling combination of social media deepens the unfathomable aspects of this double murder.
The video is graphic and available here