Tragedy in Roanoke

Credit: WWBT
Credit: WWBT

WDBJ reporter, cameraman shot dead – live on the air

A reporter and a cameraman were killed this morning live on the air in a Roanoke, Va. suburb Wednesday morning, leaving viewers of CBS affiliate WDBJ in shock.

Reporter Allison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward were doing an interview with Vicki Gardner from the Smith Mountain Lake Chamber of Commerce in Moneta, Va. at 6:45 a.m. (ET) Wednesday morning outside of a local shopping mall where out of nowhere, a gunman came up and shot all three people live on the air.

Both Parker and Ward were pronounced dead. Gardner was sent to a local hospital and was in surgery.

The shooter was believed to be a former reporter the station named Vester Lee Flanagan II, who underwent the pseudonym “Bryce Williams” on-air at WDBJ. While being chased by police, Williams ranted about his former colleagues and posted video of the shooting on social media, which sent Twitter scrambling to suspend his account. He also sent a fax to ABC News, which was promptly forwarded to authorities.

Williams later was found shot with a self-inflicted gunshot wound near an expressway. He was later pronounced dead at a local hospital. Williams was fired from WDBJ in 2013 for undisclosed reasons, but claims was fired due to a racist atmosphere at the TV station.

Footage of the video made its way online quickly. Many viewers complained about having to see the gruesome footage because both Twitter and Facebook have autoplay on by default, which automatically plays video once you arrive at the site.

WDBJ7-dot-com-generic1-jpgThe incident left colleagues at the Schurz Communications-owned TV station shocked. The news team managed to remain their composure on the air while reporting on the deaths of two of their own.

As a result of today’s incident, security is being increased around news crews. In New York City, police cleared Rockefeller Plaza where NBC’s Today show is taped. Police has also increased security around New York City’s TV stations. In Milwaukee, stations are cutting back or suspending live shots for the day. So far, no policy changes have been announced regarding Chicago stations.

On-air incidents like this are rare. But these type of attacks are on the rise – notably in the San Francisco-Oakland area, where reporters and cameraman were attacked and robbed live on the air, with one case taking place earlier this summer near downtown San Francisco (ironically, Flanagan interned at Group W’s KPIX in San Francisco, now a CBS-owned station.) Today’s on-air murder is perhaps the first in recent memory, though live televised acts of violence are nothing new – Pennsylvania treasurer Budd Dwyer’s suicide in 1987 during a news conference, for one, seen live over WPVI in Philadelphia and WPXI in Pittsburgh, and the beating of Reginald Denny during the Los Angeles Riots in 1992.

In Chicago, we’ve seen violence during Bulls championship celebrations, including hooligans destroying a car during a WMAQ live shot in 1992.

Outside of someone trying to grab WBBM-TV reporter Jay Levine’s mic during a live shot last year, there has been no serious on-air live or off-camera incidents on Chicago TV stations in recent memory, despite the city’s growing violent reputation in outside circles (“Chiraq”.)

WDBJ made news recently when the station was fined $320,000 by the FCC for indecency as a male organ from a porn website wound up on the air due to an editing error.  The fine is currently being appealed.