Gunman who killed two journalists was ‘disturbed,’ official says

Franklin County sheriff says gunman who killed reporter Alison Parker and photographer Adam Ward has died

Reporter Alison Parker, left, and cameraman Adam Ward, in undated photos.

Vester Flanagan, the man suspected of killing two Virginia journalists as they conducted a live television interview, was seriously “disturbed” according to a local official.

Franklin County Sheriff Bill Overton said authorities had a long investigation ahead of them and that the shooter's motive is unknown. But Overton described Flanagan as being “disturbed in some way,” adding “it would appear things were spiraling out of control.”

Flanagan died at approximately 1:30 p.m. Wednesday after shooting himself while driving along a major highway, authorities confirmed at a Wednesday press conference.

A gunman shot dead WDBJ reporter Alison Parker and photographer Adam Ward Wednesday morning at the Bridgewater Plaza mall in Moneta, Virginia, about 150 miles west of the state capital, Richmond.

While authorities said they had not determined a motive, perceived racism appeared to be a factor in the shootings, according to posts on social media attributed to the gunman and a fax that ABC News said had been sent by him.

Flanagan had legally purchased the gun used in the attack, according to Thomas Faison, spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

WDBJ said Flanagan was a former employee who was also known as Bryce Williams. A video of the shooting, apparently from the gunman's perspective, was posted to Twitter and Facebook accounts for Bryce Williams. Both accounts have since been suspended.

Flanagan faxed a 23-page document to ABC News shortly after the killings, in which he said he was inspired in part by other mass shootings, including the recent Charleston, South Carolina, church massacre, as well as personal experiences with racism and homophobia.

“I’ve been a human powder keg for a while just waiting to go BOOM!!!!!” he wrote.

During WDBJ's noon broadcast, when it was unclear if Flanagan would survive, the station's general manager and vice president, Jeff Marks, told viewers: “I'm not really sure if I want him to live or die. If he dies, then he took the coward’s way out, and if he lives, he goes on trial and goes to prison for the rest of his life. I’m speaking way out of turn, but I think I’m expressing what viewers think and what many of the co-workers of Alison and Adam think.”

Marks said that Flanagan was hired as a reporter a few years ago and “quickly gathered a reputation as someone who was difficult to work with” and that he was looking for “people to say things that he could take offense to.” Flanagan was let go from the station about two years ago. 

“Eventually, after many incidents of his anger coming to the fore, we dismissed him. He did not take that well,” Marks said, adding that when Flanagan was fired, police had to escort him from the building.

Roanoke police said authorities would search Flanagan's apartment.

At about 6:45 a.m., Parker was interviewing Vicki Gardner live on air. Video shows them hearing shots, screaming and ducking for cover. The camera appears to drop to the ground and captures what seems to be a fleeting image of the gunman. The station then cuts away from the live feed and back to its studio.

Gardner, the head of the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce, was reportedly shot in the back, underwent surgery and is in stable condition, WDBJ7 reported during its noon broadcast. A vigil of about 50 people was held for Gardner at Bethlehem United Methodist Church on Wednesday evening, The Associated Press reported.

President Barack Obama was among the many people expressing sadness over the shootings.

“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 told ABC News.

Parker just turned 24 and attended James Madison University, where she was the editor of the school's newspaper, The Breeze. According to her Facebook page, she spent most of her life outside Martinsville, Virginia. She was an avid kayaker and attended community theater events in her spare time. It appears her last report for WDBJ was on neglected foster children.

Her boyfriend, WDBJ anchor Chris Hurst, said on Twitter 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. She had just finished a special package on child abuse for the station, he said.

“I am numb,” he tweeted.

Parker's father, Andy, wrote in a press release that he, her mother Barbara and brother Drew were “devastated” by her death. 

“Not hearing her voice again crushes my soul. Our family can only take solace in the fact that although her life was brief, she was so happy with it,” he wrote.

The station's website says Ward was 27 and a graduate of Virginia Tech. He was engaged to a producer at the station, Melissa Ott, according to WDBJ spokesman Mike Morgan. Ott was in the control room Wednesday morning as the shooting happened on live television. 

With wire services. Azure Gilman contributed reporting.

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