Virginia shootings: Gunman ordered to seek medical help

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Media captionIn an emotional broadcast, members of the WDBJ7 team held hands and wiped away tears

An ex-TV journalist who shot dead two ex-colleagues live on air in Virginia had been ordered to seek medical help by his bosses, memos reveal.

Internal memos from Dan Dennison, then news chief of WDBJ7, show concerns about Vester Flanagan's "aggressive" behaviour towards colleagues.

They indicate the station tried to help him before firing him in February 2013.

Flanagan shot dead Alison Parker and Adam Ward at a shopping centre in Moneta on Wednesday.

He filmed the attack and posted it on social media. ABC News also said it had received a rambling fax from the 41-year-old describing himself as a "human powder keg".

The White House said the attack showed the need for better gun control.

Colleagues at WDBJ7, in Roanoke, Virginia, held a moment of silence at 06:45 (10:45 GMT) on Thursday - 24 hours on from the exact moment the reporter and cameraman were shot dead.

"Joining hands here on the desk," said anchor Kim McBroom. "It's the only way to do it."


At the scene - Tara McKelvey, BBC News, Roanoke

About 30 journalists have gathered in the parking lot near WDBJ. They're standing near a heap of flowers and gifts people have left under a tree.

Someone has placed a camcorder on the wood chips under the tree. The camera is decorated with Mardi Gras beads, and it has a cloth to wipe the lens.

Someone else has folded a sweatshirt neatly and left it under the tree: the sweatshirt says Virginia Tech, the site of a mass shooting in 2007 and also the alma mater of Adam Ward.

The place smells like vanilla from scented candles, and it's cool here in the morning air. Some of the candles have burned all night.


Flanagan was hired by WDBJ7 in March 2012 and was known on air by his professional name, Bryce Williams.

Within a few weeks, colleagues were complaining of "feeling threatened or uncomfortable" while working with him.

The memos highlight "heated confrontations" with camera operators and producers in front of guests while out covering stories.

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Media captionAlison Parker's boyfriend Chris Hurst shared a photo album of the couple's special moments

By July 2012, Mr Dennison was requiring him to contact the Health Advocate, the employee assistance programme, or face being sacked.

"We can no longer afford to have you engage in behaviours that constitute creation of a hostile work environment," he said.


Image copyright WDBJ7

Alison Parker

  • Aged 24, was a reporter for WDBJ7's Mornin' show
  • Grew up in Martinsville, Virginia and edited her university newspaper
  • Joined WDBJ7 after internship and said she grew up watching the station
  • Was dating station anchor Chris Hurst

Adam Ward

  • Aged 27, was a cameraman for WDBJ7
  • Went to school in Salem, Virginia, and graduated from Virginia Tech
  • Described by his employer as committed and a "fine photojournalist"
  • Was engaged to station producer Melissa Ott

Who were the two journalists?


Mr Dennison said on Wednesday Flanagan had complained of racial discrimination but "all these allegations were deemed to be unfounded".

He said when Flanagan was fired, he had to be escorted from the building by police "because he was not going to leave willingly or under his own free will".

In the 23-page fax to ABC News apparently sent by Flanagan under his professional name, he complained of suffering discrimination and bullying at work for being gay and black.

He said his anger had been "building steadily" and that he had become a "human powder keg" that was "waiting to go BOOM!!!!"

The writer expressed admiration for the teenagers who killed 13 people at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999 and said the attack in Charleston, South Carolina, in which nine black churchgoers were killed in June this year, was what "sent me over the top".

Late on Wednesday, a representative for Flanagan's family issued a statement expressing their "deepest condolences to the families of Alison Parker and Adam Ward".

Alison Parker's father said his family had lost their "bright, shining light".

Image copyright WDBJ7
Image caption Reporter Alison Parker was doing an interview when she was shot and killed live on air
Image copyright Twitter
Image caption The Twitter and Facebook accounts of Bryce Williams, Flanagan's on-air name, have been suspended

Ms Parker was conducting a live interview with a guest on tourism for the breakfast show, filmed by Mr Ward, when the incident occurred.

Suddenly, shots rang out, and viewers saw the camera fall to the ground. Screams could be heard and the footage captured a brief glimpse of the gunman.

The station cut back to the studio - journalists would later have to continue broadcasting on the deaths of two of their colleagues.

Hours later, the gunman posted footage online of himself opening fire at close range. This was later removed.

He killed himself after a police chase.

The interviewee, Vicki Gardner of the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce, is in a stable condition in hospital following surgery.


Virginia TV shooting

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Memorials have sprung up at the offices of WDBJ7

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Media captionBarack Obama on Virginia shooting: "It breaks my heart"

President Barack Obama repeated his call for tougher gun laws after the attack.

"We're willing to spend trillions of dollars to prevent terrorist activities, but we haven't been willing so far at least to impose some common sense gun safety measures," he said.

However Republican presidential hopefuls Jim Gilmore and Ben Carson warned against any rush to introduce tougher gun controls.

"We're not going to let this madman take away the lawful rights of Americans to keep and bear arms," Jim Gilmore, a former governor of Virginia, told CNN.


US media reaction

Gun control, social media and workplace violence are some of the issues being discussed.

Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times takes on the sensitive issue of tightening gun controls. "Surely we can regulate guns as seriously as we do cars, ladders and swimming pools," he says.

The moment of the shooting was filmed and posted on social media by the killer. The Washington Post found it encouraging that large news organisations chose not to show it and Twitter and Facebook quickly removed it from their sites.

CNN Money headlined their article on the issue "the ugly side of autoplay". The Boston Globe called such footage "the darkest form of entertainment".

A number of media outlets across the US have been discussing workplace violence. Pennlive.com said the shooting was a "jarring reminder that we never really know the people with whom we work".


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