- WDBJ-TV reporter Alison Parker and videographer Adam Ward were shot and killed on live television early Wednesday morning in Moneta, Virginia.
- Police said the suspect is a man named Vester Flanagan, who reportedly worked at the same TV station as Parker and Ward.
- Flanagan (or someone with access to Twitter and Facebook accounts that use his on-air name) reportedly posted video of the attack from the shooter's perspective.
- Flanagan, who went by the name Bryce Williams on air, allegedly fled the scene, led police on a chase on I-66, and then shot himself. He reportedly died at the hospital.
What we know about the Virginia shooting
Alison Parker and Adam Ward were doing a live interview with Vicki Gardner, the head of Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce, about the 50th anniversary celebration for Smith Mountain Lake at Bridgewater Plaza in Moneta, Virginia, at around 6:45 am Wednesday morning.
The shooter opened fire during this live spot and then fled the scene. The two journalists died shortly after 6:45 am, according to CBS News. Gardner was also shot, but she's in good condition after an emergency surgery, WDBJ reported.
Parker and Ward's murders were recorded on live television
Flanagan, the alleged shooter, is a former employee of WDBJ-TV, the CBS affiliate where Parker and Ward worked. Workplace murders made up 9 percent of job-related deaths in 2013. What makes this story different and so disturbing is that there is live footage of Parker and Ward being gunned down.
The footage begins like any routine live, local news segment, and then you hear gunfire and see the camera fall. The video's existence has sparked debate about whether news outlets should show the footage, since it may be taken as voyeurism of a tragic event. The video is extremely upsetting, but it also shows the reality of gun violence.
Warning: Graphic footage of the shooting:
What we know about Vester Flanagan, the Virginia shooting suspect
In the hours that followed, a Twitter user named @bryce_williams7 — believed to be Flanagan — posted footage of the shooting. The user posted two videos that show the shooting from the shooter's perspective. Twitter and Facebook promptly deactivated those accounts, but not before the videos were widely circulated.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe described Flanagan as a "disgruntled" employee. The Roanoke Times reported that Flanagan was hired by WDBJ-TV in 2012 and that he filed a discrimination suit against the station in 2014. On Flanagan's alleged Twitter account, there are tweets that disparage both Parker and Ward:
ABC News reported that a man claiming to be Flanagan faxed the news agency a 23-page manifesto, detailing alleged discrimination he experienced as a gay black man and commenting favorably on mass shooters. One part of the document calls it a "Suicide Note for Friends and Family."
CNN's Ed Payne, Ralph Ellis and Ray Sanchez reported several incidents that indicated Flanagan had a troubled past, including a spotty work history mired by complaints about his anger and a recent road rage incident that was caught on camera.
Internal documents from WDBJ, obtained by the Guardian, detailed multiple instances in which colleagues complained that Flanagan's "aggressive" behavior made them feel "threatened." Some memos to Flanagan suggested he get medical help.
WDBJ station manager Jeff Marks described Flanagan as "an unhappy man," according to the Guardian.
"We employed him as a reporter, and he had some talent in that respect and some experience, although he’d been out of the business for a while," Marks said. "He quickly gathered a reputation as someone who was difficult to work with."
He added, "Eventually after many incidents of his anger coming to the fore, we dismissed him. And he did not take that well, we had to call the police to escort him from the building. Since then, well, he then filed an action with the Equal Opportunity Employment Committee in which he made all kinds of complaints."
The complaints were allegedly about "racial comments." But Marks said that "none of them could be corroborated by anyone, we think they were fabricated."
Was this a mass shooting? It depends on which definition you use.
There's a lot of scholarly debate about what constitutes a mass shooting — whether it's when four or more people are killed, whether it's when four or more people are shot but fewer than four die, whether gang violence counts, whether domestic violence counts, and so on.
Most of the technical definitions wouldn't include the initial shooting of Parker, Ward, and Gardner, since fewer than four people were shot and killed before a cooling-off period. But if one includes Flanagan reportedly shooting himself after he was pursued by police, that would count as a mass shooting under the definition that it's an event in which four or more people were shot (although not killed). And the shooting would not count as a mass shooting under the definition that mass shootings are events in which four or more people are killed, since Gardner is reportedly alive.
But this debate is extremely arbitrary. A shooting is a shooting. The debate over which definition to use misses the broader problem with gun violence in America: Compared with other developed countries, the US has extraordinary levels of gun violence.
America has extraordinary levels of gun violence
In fact, no other developed country comes close to the levels of gun violence, including suicides, that America has, as this chart from Tewksbury Lab shows:
The correlation this chart demonstrates — more guns means more deaths — has been backed by a lot of research. Whether at the state or country level, reviews of the studies by the Harvard School of Public Health's Injury Control Research Center have consistently found that places with more guns have more deaths after controlling for variables like socioeconomic factors and other crime. "Within the United States, a wide array of empirical evidence indicates that more guns in a community leads to more homicide," David Hemenway, the Injury Control Research Center's director, wrote in Private Guns, Public Health.
This is widely believed by some experts to be the consequence of America's relaxed policy approach to and culture of guns: Making more guns more accessible means more guns, and more guns means more deaths. Researchers have found this not just with general homicides, but also with suicides, domestic violence, and even violence against police.
Maybe some Americans can look at these statistics and studies and still decide that the right to bear arms should be protected and gun control is a bad policy. But given the research, America's policies and attitudes toward guns have clear, deadly costs.
Reactions to the Virginia shooting
Heartbroken and angry. We must act to stop gun violence, and we cannot wait any longer. Praying for the victims' families in Virginia. -H— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) August 26, 2015
My prayers are with the @WDBJ7 family and the local community. Closely monitoring the situation as more information is made available.— Bob Goodlatte (@RepGoodlatte) August 26, 2015
My heart goes out to the two journalists who were shot in Virginia this morning. My show airs on @WDBJ7 every day. Sending love to you all.— Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow) August 26, 2015
thoughts and prayers to the family and friends of the reporter and cameraman in Virginia shooting— Reggie Bush (@ReggieBush) August 26, 2015
Shocked by the insanity of the Virginia shooting. My thoughts are with the loved ones and I hope we will find a solution to this madness.— Ricky Gervais (@rickygervais) August 26, 2015