Shooter filmed execution of reporters, said 'Jehovah' told him to kill

by Gregory Tomlin, |
In a split-second frame of video, paused by television station employees, the identity of the suspect who shot reporter Alison Parker and camera Adam Ward to death during a live television broadcast is revealed. Employees at the station recognized the man as Vester Flannigan, who went by the on-air name Bryce Williams. In a 23-page manifesto faxed to ABC News, Flannigan, both gay and black, complained that his fellow employees had been both racially insensitive and homophobic. Flannigan was recently fired for being difficult to work with, the television station's manager said. | WDBJ TV/Screengrab

ROANOKE, Va. (Christian Examiner) – The gunman who killed a reporter and cameraman from WDBJ TV in Roanoke, Va., yesterday during a live report claimed in a 23-page manifesto faxed to ABC News that he shot his former co-workers in retaliation for the shooting of black church members in Charleston, S.C., by a white man.

In the document, Vester Flannigan, also known as Bryce Williams, said "Jehovah" had told him to kill his former co-workers for their negative perceptions of gays and blacks. Flannigan, who worked for WDBJ TV only for a short period, was both black and gay.

He also wrote in the manifesto that he had written the initials of the Charleston victims on each of the hollow point bullets he used in the shooting.

Reporter Alison Parker, who had just turned 24, and cameraman Adam Ward, 27, were doing an interview in Moneta, Va., at Bridgewater Plaza at Smith Mountain Lake, a pier, shopping and entertainment center when they were approached by Flannigan.

While the camera was focused on Parker shots could be heard and the camera was dropped to the ground. Employees of the news station were able to freeze the video and in a single frame saw a clear image of Flannigan, who had been terminated a short time before the incident.

Flannigan reportedly had a long history of work-related problems both at WDBJ and other small-market stations. His co-workers and former employer said he frequently attempted to start arguments about race and homosexuality, and then repeatedly filed complaints against other employees over the discussions.

Flannigan alleged on Twitter, before the account was suspended following the shooting, that Ward had complained to the human resources office about his attitude, while Parker had used a racial slur in his presence.

Jeffrey Marks said Flannigan had a reputation for being difficult as a co-worker. If anything, the manifesto shows he was highly unstable and emotionally charged over the issue of race.

ABC News printed portions of Flannigan's manifesto, in which he discusses his financial needs, his work as a male prostitute, and even his killing of cats in the forest.

"[I] tried to pull myself up by the bootstraps," but, "The damage was already done and when someone gets to this point, there is nothing that can be said or done to change their sadness to happiness. It does not work that way. Meds? Nah. It's too much."

"Yes, it will sound like I am angry," Flannigan writes. "I am. And I have every right to be. But when I leave this Earth, the only emotion I want to feel is peace...."

"The church shooting was the tipping point...but my anger has been building steadily ... I've been a human powder keg for a while ... just waiting to go BOOM!!!!"

"And then, after the unthinkable happened in Charleston, THAT WAS IT!!!"

"Yeah I'm all [expletive] up in the head," Flannigan wrote.

Shortly after the shooting, Flannigan was spotted by Virginia police in a rented car fitting the description of the one seen near the shooting. Police tried to stop the suspect, but he fled. After a mile-and-a-half, Flannigan's car careened off the road and into a ditch. Police approached the car and found Flannigan with a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

He was transported to a local hospital, where he died.

In addition to the video of the shooting which aired on live television, Flannigan himself recorded the shooting as it occurred. He posted the video to Facebook shortly after the shooting. Facebook pulled the video and suspended the account, but not before the video had been downloaded to other sites.

In that video, Flannigan extended his handgun at both the cameraman and reporter while the live interview was taking place. He lowered the gun, but raised it again seconds later. He fired three shots into Parker, who ran a short distance before collapsing. He then shot Ward.

The video ends with a black screen, but more screaming and groaning can be heard until a second volley of shots rings out. In all, Flannigan fired close to 15 shots at his victims.

Marks appeared on air shortly after the shooting and informed the audience of the events that took place.

"It is my very sad duty to report, we have determined with the help of police and our employees, Alison and Adam died this morning at 6:45 shortly after the shots rang out," Marks said. "I cannot tell you how much they were loved by the WDBJ7 team ... our hearts are broken."

Vicki Gardner, who was being interviewed by Parker, was hit in the back. She survived the shooting and is in stable condition at a Virginia hospital. Gardner is head of the Smith Mountain Lake Chamber of Commerce.


In a statement following the shooting, President Barack Obama used the occasion to talk about gun violence, but avoided addressing the apparent causes of racism and mental illness that prompted the shooting.

"It's a testimony in this case to the fact that local journalists, they go into tough places. This isn't one of those situations. They should have been safe. I think it's one more argument for why we need to look at how we can reduce gun violence in this country," Obama said.

"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."


On a news show late Wednesday, Marks told Bill O'Reilly it was a long day for the staff who watched the events play out on live television. He noted it is the job of journalists to report what people say and do, not what they think or feel -- and that is what law enforcement and the courts are for.

"We just can't get into the minds of these people," said Marks, who spoke of the courage of professionals at the station who were crying during commercial breaks but doing their jobs nonetheless.

"You just deal with it," Marks said. "That's all you can do. Press forward, take the mountain, and do a lot of praying."