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Journalists killed live on air were both shot in head

Published 28/08/2015

WDBJ-TV7 anchors Kimberly McBroom and guest anchor Steve Grant pay tribute to shot colleagues
WDBJ-TV7 anchors Kimberly McBroom and guest anchor Steve Grant pay tribute to shot colleagues

Two journalists who were killed during a live TV report in Virginia were both shot in the head.

Reporter Alison Parker, 24, and cameraman Adam Ward, 27, who both worked for WDBJ-TV in Roanoke, Virginia, died of gunshot wounds to the head and body, according to the city's medical examiner's office.

The woman Ms Parker was interviewing, Vicki Gardner, was shot in the back and is in good condition in hospital.

The gunman Vester Flanagan, who used to work as a reporter for the station under the name Bryce Williams, killed his two former colleagues on Wednesday during a live broadcast and later died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Flanagan's former boss said he constantly saw himself as the target in his conflicts with WDBJ-TV colleagues and described him as a "professional victim".

The station's former news director, Dan Dennison, said: "He was victimized by everything and everyone and could never quite grasp the fact that he was the common denominator in all of these really sometimes serious interpersonal conflicts that he had with people."

On the day he was fired in 2013, Flanagan pressed a wooden cross into Mr Dennison's hand and said "you'll need this" as two police officers escorted him out. Flanagan's departure was filmed by Mr Ward.

Virginia's governor Terry McAuliffe met privately with grieving station employees to share his condolences. The workers have been described as a close-knit group, and have continued reporting on their colleagues following the tragedy.

Mr Dennison said WDBJ had no idea of Flanagan's shortcomings before he was hired there and he had received positive recommendations.

Flanagan's temper became evident at least 15 years ago at WTWC-TV in Tallahassee, Florida, said Don Shafer, who hired him in 1999. Mr Shafer, who is now news director with XETV in San Diego, recalled Flanagan as a good reporter and a "clever, funny guy" but he also had conflicts with co-workers "to the point where he was threatening people".

He said: "Had some physical confrontations with a couple of people, and at one point became such a distraction that we finally had to terminate him."

After stints in California, Florida and North Carolina, Flanagan's last television job was at WDBJ in Roanoke.

Others who ran across Flanagan after he lost his job at WDBJ described a man increasingly irked by slights more often imagined than real.

A former co-worker at a UnitedHealthcare call centre where Flanagan worked until late 2014 said he tried to grab her shoulder and told her never to speak to him again after she offhandedly said he was unusually quiet.

The manager of a bar in Roanoke said Flanagan was so incensed when no one thanked him for his business as he left the tavern that he sent a nearly 20-page letter, lambasting employees' behaviour.

Flanagan described himself in a court document as an aggrieved and unappreciated victim.

"How heartless can you be? My entire life was disrupted after moving clear across the country for a job only to have my dream turn into a nightmare," Flanagan wrote in a letter to a judge filed as part of his 2013 lawsuit against WDBJ-TV. "Your Honour, I am not the monster here," it read.

The lawsuit was dismissed in July 2014. But in recent weeks, Flanagan laid careful plans for retribution. He contacted ABC News about what he claimed was a story tip and filled his Facebook page with photos and video montages seemingly designed to introduce himself to a larger audience.

On Wednesday, after killing Ms Parker and Mr Ward, he went online to claim they had wronged him in the past.

He also texted a friend suggesting he had "done something stupid", investigators wrote in a search warrant. He turned the gun on himself when police caught up to him a few hours later. Inside his rental car, investigators found extra licence plates, a wig, shawl, sunglasses and a hat as well as some stamped letters and a "to do" list.

On Thursday, the station's general manager, Jeffrey Marks, recalled a series of problems with Flanagan while he worked at WDBJ from March 2012 to February 2013.

Flanagan accused a news photographer of trespassing on private property. He confronted an anchor over a story and attempted to reach the company's CEO to complain. He also filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

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