Police are seeking a former WDBJ-TV reporter in connection with the shooting deaths of a reporter and photographer on live television Wednesday, a representative of the Augusta County Sheriff’s Department said.
Vester Flanagan is driving a 2009 gray Ford Mustang, the sheriff’s representative said, stopping short of calling Flanagan a suspect.
Flanagan worked at WDBJ as a reporter for about a year using the on-air name, Bryce Williams, according to a former WDBJ employee.
Flanagan was fired from the station, though the reason was not made public, the ex-employee said.
It is believed that Flanagan is still in the Virginia area, a law enforcement source briefed on the search said.
Two videos posted on a Twitter account under the name, Bryce Williams, show someone walking up to the WDBJ news crew and pointing a gun at them.
Another tweet says, “I filmed the shooting.” The Facebook and Twitter account were suspended shortly after the tweets.
One of the videos shows the gunman approaching WDBJ reporter Alison Parker and photographer Adam Ward as Parker conducted a routine interview about a local story outside Moneta, Virginia.
Ward’s back is to the gunman. Parker is in profile, and the interviewee is facing the gunman. The shooter appears to take his time aiming the gun, presenting it and then withdrawing it, before composing the angle of his video. He opens fire on Parker first. Both Parker and the interviewee scream.
On air, the audience saw the camera fall to the ground and caught the briefest glimpse of a man who appeared to point a gun toward the downed cameraman.
The station cut away to a shocked anchor, Kimberly McBroom, back in the studio.
Parker, 24, and photographer Adam Ward, 27, were killed at Bridgewater Plaza near Moneta, the station reported later.
Ward’s fiancée was in the control room and saw the shooting, WDBJ General Manager Jeff Marks told CNN.
The woman being interviewed, Vicki Gardner, executive director of the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce, was shot in the back and is in surgery, said Barb Nocera, the chamber’s special projects manager said.
The gunman is believed to have fired six or seven times, Marks said.
He remains on the loose. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has joined in the manhunt, while the ATF and FBI are participating in the investigation. Area schools are on lockdown.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe told WTOP radio in Washington that the suspected gunman may be a disgruntled employee of the TV station.
Authorities know the identity of the man believed to be the shooter, a law enforcement official told CNN.
“We do not know the motive,” Marks said. “We do know the Franklin County sheriff … they are working very diligently to track down both the motive and the person responsible for this terrible crime against two fine journalists,” he said during the station’s coverage of the shooting.
“Our hearts are broken,” Marks also said. “We have people walking around here in tears, lots of hugs.”
McBroom described Parker as a “rock star” and said, “You throw anything at that girl and she could do it.”
Another journalist at the anchor’s desk said Ward was engaged to be married to morning show producer at WDBJ, Melissa Ott, and Ward recently told her, “I’m going to get out of news. I think I’m going to do something else.”
Ward joined WDBJ in 2011 after graduating from Virginia Tech with a degree in communication and media studies, according to his Facebook page. He enrolled at the university in 2007, the same year a gunman went on a deadly rampage, leaving 32 people dead.
In April, days before the eighth anniversary of the campus massacre, Ward changed his Facebook profile photo to an image of the Virginia Tech logo with a back ribbon.
Parker was the morning reporter for the Roanoke station and a native of Virginia, having spent most of her life outside Martinsville. She started with WDBJ as an intern, her biography on the station’s website says.
She previously worked with another CNN affiliate, WCTI-TV, in Jacksonville, North Carolina, near Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune.
She was a graduate of James Madison University’s School of Media Arts and Design in Harrisonburg, Virginia.