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Long before he filmed himself gunning down a TV reporter and cameraman during a live broadcast Wednesday, the man identified as the killer traced a twisted and volatile career path that saw him fired from at least two stations for conflicts with co-workers, leaving memories of an “off-kilter” loner easily angered by office humor.

When the shooter, identified by authorities as Vester Lee Flanagan II, was fired from Roanoke, Virginia, station WDBJ in 2013, he had to be escorted out of the building by local police “because he was not going to leave willingly or under his own free will,” the station’s former news director, Dan Dennison, said in an interview with a Hawaii station, Hawaii News Now (KHNL/KGMB).

Flanagan, 41, had “a long series of complaints against co-workers nearly from the beginning of employment at the TV station,” said Dennison, now an official with the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources. “All of these allegations were deemed to be unfounded.” Though the claims were along racial lines, he said, “we did a thorough investigation and could find no evidence that anyone had racially discriminated against this man.” The victims of Wednesday’s shooting — reporter Alison Parker, 24, and cameraman Adam Ward, 27 — were white; Flanagan was black.

Hours after he shot his former co-workers then posted video of the attack to his Facebook page, Flanagan crashed a vehicle and shot himself. He died at a hospital later Wednesday, authorities said.

The conflict described by Dennison in many ways echoed another, in 2000, when Flanagan was fired from a Tallahassee, Florida, television station after threatening fellow employees, a former supervisor said.

Flanagan “was a good on-air performer, a pretty good reporter and then things started getting a little strange with him,” Don Shafer, the former news director of Florida’s WTWC-TV said Wednesday in an interview broadcast on Shafer’s current employer, San Diego 6 The CW.

Shafer said managers at the Florida station fired Flanagan because of his “bizarre behavior.”

“He threatened to punch people out and he was kind of running fairly roughshod over other people in the newsroom,” said Shafer, who did not immediately return a call from AP for comment.

Kimberly Moore Wilmoth, who worked with Flanagan at the Florida station, recalled him as “off-kilter” and someone who “never really made himself part of the team.”

Recalling one of a number of incidents, Wilmoth said that co-workers meant to tease Flanagan for a story he did on a spelling bee that made it sound as if the winner would get a case of Girl Scouts, rather than cookies sold by the group.

“The next day, somebody had a Girl Scout emblem on their desk and we made some copies of it and taped them to his computer,” she said. “If he had only laughed we would have all been friends forever. But he didn’t laugh … he got mad. And that was when I realized he wasn’t part of the collegiality that exists in a newsroom and he removed himself from it.”

In 2000, Flanagan sued the Florida station over allegations of race discrimination, claiming that a producer called him a “monkey” in 1999 and that other black employees had been called the same name by other workers. Flanagan also claimed that an unnamed white supervisor at the station said black people were lazy because they did not take advantage of scholarships to attend college. The parties later reached a settlement.

Flanagan grew up in Oakland, California, where he was a homecoming prince one year at Skyline High School. Virgil Barker, who grew up on the same tree-lined street, recalled his childhood friend Wednesday with fondness.

“I know you want to hear that he was a monster, but he was the complete opposite,” Barker said. “He was very, very loving.”

Barker said he had lost touch with Flanagan over the years but remained close to Flanagan’s sister, who still lives in the family’s home across the street.

No one answered the door Wednesday morning at the white stucco house, with fruit trees in the front yard overlooking San Francisco Bay.

Flanagan graduated from San Francisco State University. A former classmate, Pamela Rousseau of Danville, Calif., said Flanagan was a bit “flamboyant” and eager to be the front man when presenting students’ findings.

Before and after his work in Florida, Flanagan, who also appeared on-air using the name Bryce Williams, worked at a series of stations around the country.

They included a stint in 1996 at KPIX, a San Francisco station, where a spokeswoman confirmed he worked as a freelance production assistant. From 1997 to 1999, he worked as a general assignment reporter at WTOC-TV in Savannah, Georgia. From 2002 to 2004, he worked as a reporter and anchor at WNCT-TV in Greenville, North Carolina, general manager and vice president John Lewis said.

A former co-worker at the California station, Barbara Rodgers, recalled him only vaguely as “a young, eager kid out of journalism school,” who “just wanted to be on TV and to do a good job.”

Working in Georgia years ago, Flanagan was “tall, good looking and seemed to be really nice, personable and funny,” said a former fellow reporter, Angela Williams-Gebhardt, who now lives in Ohio. The station’s former news director, Michael Sullivan, said Flanagan was relatively inexperienced, but did a decent job, without any apparent problems.

But at Roanoke’s WDBJ, Flanagan “got in lots of arguments with people,” said LaRell Reynolds, a former production worker at the station. “I don’t think anyone liked the guy.”

After managers fired Flanagan, he worked as a call center representative for UnitedHealthcare in Roanoke from late 2013 to November 2014, the company said.

But in the days before the shootings, Flanagan assembled photos of himself on Twitter and Facebook, as if preparing to introduce himself to a wider audience. The postings continued after the shooting, when he tweeted that Parker had “made racist comments” and Ward had complained to human resources about him. Then, Flanagan posted video of the shooting online, showing him repeatedly firing at a screaming Parker as she tried to flee.

In a rambling 23-page letter sent by fax Wednesday to ABC News soon after the shooting, Flanagan said he’d been discriminated against both for being black and gay. He listed grievances dating back to the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech and the more recent massacre of worshippers at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C.

“I’ve been a human powder keg for a while,” Flanagan wrote in the note, “just waiting to go BOOM!!!!”

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives spokesman Thomas Faison said Flanagan legally bought the gun used to kill Alison Parker and Adam Ward. They were doing a live broadcast Wednesday morning when they were shot to death.

Faison did not say where or when Flanagan bought the gun. In his purported manifesto faxed to ABC News, Flanagan said he decided to buy a gun after the Charleston church massacre.

The handgun can be seen in a video of the shooting that Flanagan posted on social media. Flanagan later died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

President Barack Obama says the fatal on-air shooting of two Virginia TV station employees is heartbreaking.

Obama says “it breaks my heart every time” he reads or hears about these kinds of incidents.

“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 said.

 

 

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14 thoughts on “Troubled And Angry Man Behind On-Air Killings In Virginia

  1. Timekeeeper on said:

    This man was/is obviously unstable and as someone said needs mental health attention. Yes, he is crazy, but he is certainly Not trying to start any kind of race war a some narrow minded individual has tried to interject. This is just a man who lost it, used any excuse he cold think of, and as we have seen too mnay times is too easy to get a gun in his hands. No one is jumping on his cause ( because he doesn’t have one.
    Other than to go out in a blaze of glory which too often these gun nuts try to do.
    Bottomline is this was a tragedy of major proportions that should never have happened. I wish their loved ones well during their time of need..

    • This guy by committing a horrible race crime is hoping for others to mimic him as retaliation …. by creating anger in the white community. Same as Dylan Roof who wanted to create anger in the AA community.

  2. Wishing individuals would use their insurance co-pay that are working to get the help they really need. Pathology is real !! Very sad.

  3. I’ll just say this as the parent of a child working in a newsroom in the DMV whom often complains of how nasty and rude the white female anchors and colleagues behave, I bet the blonde arrogant elitist “Britt McHenrys” will now think twice about how they treat what they consider the pointless low level workers!!!!! I honestly have no sympathy for no one in this story because I HATED my DC federal agency but I chose to retire (can’t believe a law firm tracked me down yesterday for a settlement check..GOD IS GOOD)! This shooter looked like (Don Lemon, TJ Holmes, Lester Holt etc) what gets hired for those jobs and got jealous of the other media fave a blonde “star” ditz whom replaced him. Can we move on to the next media exploited tragedy now……that biz is VERY cut throat! If ESPNs blonde ditz Britt McHenry were black she would have been FIRED!!

  4. Elizabeth on said:

    The man continued to live in conservative southwest VA. Excuses. He was mentally unstable and he gunned down three people. That’s it. Two died and he killed himself. He could have easily opened up a third eye on his forehead when he got the gun and spared these young people. Another senseless murder.

  5. D. Cassandra Fletcher, Ph.D. on said:

    Another uniquely American tragedy has occurred. In this case, there is fallout from the nexus of numerous issues, in a broadcast media environment, in conservative southwestern Virginia. They include, but are not limited to, the following: the effects of societal, institutional, and personal racism upon an African American and Gay media professional; the likely typecasting as “The Other” of Blacks and other minorities in the a predominantly white workplace; the use by managers of racially-based in-group vs. out group alliances when determining who does or does not “fit in” on the job; tensions between older, established professionals and ambitious, younger ones as they jockey for positions and power; Human Resource Department guidelines which fail to redress employment grievances adequately; Equal Employment Opportunity processes and laws which delay or thwart workplace justice; increased acceptance of office romances within the professional workplace; mental illness which often goes unperceived and unaddressed; easy access to guns followed by a segue to murderous violence; and finally, social media exhibitionism which seeks celebrity, no matter how sensational or horrific.

    Now not two, but three Roanoke broadcast journalism professionals are dead.  Alison Parker and Adam Ward, young white millennials climbing the career ladder, were shockingly assassinated on live television.  The killer, Vester Lee Flanagan II, a.k.a., Bryce Williams, a seasoned Black reporter, filmed the murders, posted them on his Facebook page, fled the scene, then ended his life with a 23-page protest manifesto and suicide.

    We have been stunned and traumatized by the terror. We cannot, however, adopt the standard, knee-jerk reaction that this is the act of a “disgruntled employee” or a “mad man”.

    The anguished coverage of the killings in the mass and social communications media, the overwhelming grief felt by so many, and the ease with which the perpetrator has been demonized are understandable.

    Yet for those of us who have been subjected to overt and subtle racism, gender discrimination, anti-gay bias, and ageism in the American workplace, we suspect that this Black professional man’s violent, criminal actions are an extreme overreaction to: the repeated experience (and not just the perception) of unfair treatment; a succession of unfair terminations; an inability to achieve justice in a system which protects the status quo; the difficulty of overcoming being labeled “uncomfortable, undesirable, and ‘not a team player,” if one fights back against race-based, microaggressions and, finally, losing the battle to pull oneself out of the personal, professional, and financial despair resulting from all of the foregoing.

    I believe America deserves an independent investigation, and a critical analysis, of each and every aspect of this case. Personnel from the Departments of Justice, Labor, and Health and Human Services, in addition to the police and FBI, should be assigned the task. Ironically, Roanoke, one of the earliest American settlements, is now the epicenter in the ongoing struggle to achieve racial equality and justice in these United States.

    Only when we undertake an honest examination of all the charges, facts, actions, decisions, and outcomes in this terrible matter, within the larger contexts suggested herein, will the truth emerge, and the right lessons be learned.

    Let us not forget, that in 2015, a divided America still largely believe: “If you’re White, you’re right; if you’re Brown, stick around; if you’re Yellow, you’re mellow; but if you’re Black, get back.”

    • REFRESHING – this board is also frequented by intelligent sistas. And let me make just one suggestion in order to ‘answer’ the questions you pose-and that is to go just a little deeper and ‘review’ the history of this country to see just what kinds of people were getting off those boats from Europe. If you start there-it will be quite apparent that ‘the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.’

    • CicsoKid on said:

      In other words, the killer was actually the victim. He bears no responsibility for his actions because it’s America’s fault.

      • I see its a little deep for you. Initially he WAS A VICTIM! Being called derogatory names especially due to race will make anyone a VICTIM. The idea of America is a GREAT THING. BUT
        the devil is in the details. The man was just weak or mentally ill. I’ve experienced this race sit on different jobs but was able to defend and maintain THAN walk away intact. Its hard to feel sorry for the media as much harm as they do on African American men. They portray us in the WORST light as much as possible. And if you don’t believe me just look at these commercials some of these brothas take part in. He’s usually made to look stupid or inept some kind of way. Everybody IS NOT FOOLED.

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