herald

Sunday 4 December 2016

Journalists shot dead on air over race grudge

Shooting

The scene of the shooting.
The scene of the shooting.
Reporter Alison Parker, left, and cameraman Adam Ward. Parker and Ward were fatally shot during an on-air interview, Wednesday yesterday. (Courtesy of WDBJ-TV via AP)

Alison Parker surely saw her killer out of the corner of her eye as he walked up, filming her on his mobile phone. It would not have been the first time a member of the public had stood staring while she was on live TV but, ever the professional, she simply ignored him and carried on with her interview, as she had been trained to do.

The slightest glance to her right would have shown her that the 6ft 3in man towering over her cameraman, Adam Ward, had a pistol in his hand that he calmly raised, lowered and raised again, pointing directly at her heart as he whispered "b***h".

grudges

For more than 20 seconds Vester Flanagan, a former colleague with grudges against each of them, stood still almost within touching distance of Miss Parker, filming her all the time. Then, after raising his gun for a final time, he opened fire - killing Miss Parker and Mr Ward live on television.

In a rambling 23-page fax sent to ABC News after the shooting, Flanagan - a serial litigant over racism claims - said he had carried out the murders as revenge for the killing of nine black churchgoers by a white supremacist in Charleston, South Carolina, in June.

He claimed Miss Parker was a "racist", adding "my hollow-point bullets have the victims' initials on them". He also claimed that "Jehovah spoke to me" and told him to act. Police described him as "disturbed" with his life "spiralling out of control".

Flanagan (41) murdered both Miss Parker and Mr Ward as viewers of Virginia's WDBJ7 TV and colleagues in the studio watched with horror and disbelief. They included Mr Ward's fiancee, Melissa Ott, a producer who was in the control room of the studio at the time.

Miss Parker (24) only turned to look at Flanagan after he fired the first shot, screaming in surprise and terror, then tried in vain to flee as he unleashed a rapid volley of eight shots, still filming on his mobile phone.

Mr Ward (27) fell to the floor with his camera, which captured a momentary image of his murderer.

Even in a country depressingly familiar with acts of incomprehensible violence, the killings surely left viewers numb with shock. Yet the shock was far from over; within hours, as he was being pursued by police, Flanagan posted his video of the murders on his Facebook and Twitter accounts - a killer's-eye-view, like a bloodthirsty video game made real, a new low in the USA's never-ending story of gun crime.

The White House responded by urging Congress rapidly to pass gun control laws sought by President Barack Obama, whose exasperated spokesman said it was time to show "common sense" on firearms legislation.

evading

After evading police for almost five hours, Flanagan shot himself as his car was pursued by a traffic officer, and died later in hospital.

Colleagues who were left to mourn Miss Parker and Mr Ward - while simultaneously reporting on their deaths as they happened - described Miss Parker as a "rock star" among journalists, while Mr Ward was called the station's "go-to-guy".

Vicki Gardner, the woman who was being interviewed about tourism and was hit in the back by a bullet, was in a stable condition in hospital last night after surgery.

Flanagan had clearly intended to garner maximum publicity for whatever point he believed he was making, by carrying out the shooting live on television and posting his videos online, a tactic that he may have copied from Isil terrorists.

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