The man who authorities said fatally shot Virginia reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward during a live broadcast Wednesday before killing himself is a former television reporter for the same station.
Vester Lee Flanagan II, 41, who also used the name Bryce Williams, was employed at WDBJ-TV between 2012 and 2013 as a multimedia journalist, the station’s general manager, Jeff Marks, said.
Speaking Wednesday on air, his former WDBJ colleagues said that Bryce Williams was the name he used on television.
“Vester was an unhappy man. We employed him as a reporter and he had some talent in that respect and some experience,” Marks said. “He quickly gathered a reputation of someone who was difficult to work with. He was sort of looking out to people to say things he could take offense to. Eventually, after many incidents of his anger, we dismissed him. He did not take that well. We had to call police to escort him from the building.”
Thomas Faison, a spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said Wednesday investigators had recovered a Glock 19 pistol that belonged to Flanagan.
Faison said the gun had been purchased “weeks ago,” and that he had apparently passed a required background check. Flanagan also had a second gun, Faison added.
Before firing Flanagan, WDBJ managers referred the reporter to the company’s health advocate to seek counseling, according to internal memos published by the Washington Post and first obtained by The Guardian.
“On three separate occasions in the past month and a half you have behaved in a manner that has resulted in one or more of your co-workers feeling threatened or uncomfortable,” Dan Dennison, who at the time was WDBJ’s news director, reportedly wrote to Flanagan in one of the memos.
On the day of his firing, according to the memos, Flanagan became so agitated that “several members of the sales team [took] shelter in a locked office.”
Flanagan eventually had to be escorted from the building by police. As he was escorted out, he told officers that his co-workers had left a watermelon in the hallway for a week and “basically called [him] a n****r.”
Reached by phone, Dennison declined to comment. And the station’s human resources department did not immediately respond to a voicemail seeking comment. Nadia Singh, an employee who is named in the documents, told BuzzFeed News they are authentic.
Marks said he believed that Flanagan fabricated complaints of racial discrimination at the station, saying they could not be corroborated by anyone at WDBJ.
On Wednesday, after Parker and Ward’s deaths, Twitter and Facebook accounts under the name Bryce Williams shared graphic video of the shooting filmed from the perspective of the gunman.
After sharing the videos, his Facebook and Twitter accounts were later suspended.
Moments after the shooting, Flanagan tweeted from an account under Bryce Williams that “Alison [Parker] made racist comments” and that he had filed a report with the EEOC.”
He also wrote “Adam [Ward] went to [human resources] on me after working with me one time!!!”
ABC News reported that between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning it had received 23 pages via fax from a man claiming to be Bryce Williams. ABC said it had turned the document over to authorities.
“Why did I do it? I put down a deposit for a gun on 6/19/15. The Church shooting in Charleston happened on 6/17/15,” he wrote in the faxes, according to ABC. “What sent me over the top was the church shooting. And my hollow point bullets have the victims’ initials on them.”
“The church shooting was the tipping point…but my anger has been building steadily…I’ve been a human powder keg for a while…just waiting to go BOOM!!!!”
He also reportedly made references to Virginia Tech killer Seung Hui Cho and Columbine High School shooters Eric Harris and Dylann Klebold.
“Also, I was influenced by Seung–Hui Cho. That’s my boy right there. He got NEARLY double the amount that Eric Harris and Dylann Klebold got…just sayin’,” he wrote.
ABC reported he complained of being attacked for being a gay black man. He also reportedly telephoned the ABC newsroom after the shooting to claim he was responsible.
According to the Bryce Williams Facebook account, Flanagan lived in Roanoke, near where the shooting took place.
Flanagan was born in 1973 in Oakland, California, where his mother worked as a teacher for more than 37 years, according to her 2008 obituary.
He wrote on Twitter that he was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness and previously worked as a “high paid ‘companion’” and model.
He stated that he attended San Francisco State University, with university officials confirming to BuzzFeed News a “Vester Lee Flanagan” graduated in 1995 with a degree in radio and television.
His LinkedIn account states that he began his career as a news intern in 1993, before working as a reporter and production assistant at various stations in the 1990s.
Between March 1999 and March 2000, he worked at WTWC-TV NBC 40 in Tallahassee, Florida, the station confirmed to BuzzFeed News.
In March of 2000, after losing his job, Flanagan filed a civil lawsuit in federal court against WTWC-TV for alleged racial discrimination. In the complaint, Flanagan said members of the station’s management called him “monkey,” suggested he had only been hired because of affirmative action, and asked him to “stop talking ebonics.”
The lawsuit was settled in January 2001 under unspecified terms.
Flanagan also said the station fired him after he threatened to contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to complain about the alleged discrimination, and asked for $15,000 in damages. The station’s general manager said an EEOC complaint was filed.
A spokesperson with the EEOC told BuzzFeed News the office could not confirm or deny that Flanagan had ever filed a report, due to confidentiality provisions.
“He had some conflicts with some people in the studio and in the control room,” San Diego 6 News Director Don Shafer, who was Flanagan’s former WTWC boss at the time of the suit, told BuzzFeed News.
“But they were certainly nothing like pulling a gun on anyone or anything,” he added, emphasizing that the conflicts were never race related.
Eventually, the conflicts resulted in Flanagan’s firing, Shafer said.
“I wasn’t surprised that he sued us,” he said. “He was just looking to get something out of being terminated, but there was nothing to his claims.
“He was a pretty good reporter though, good enough that I made him a weekend evening anchor.”
Greg Sextro, a TV producer who worked with Flanagan in Florida and stayed in touch with him for a few years, remembered him as a “goofy,” “nice guy” who was constantly reprimanded by superiors for the quality of his reporting.
“He was not a good reporter,” Sextro told BuzzFeed News. “They would take his writing and rip it up.”
Sextro also said he never witnessed any racial discrimination against Flanagan.
“He made that crap up,” Sextro said of Flanagan’s claims that his bosses called him racial slurs.
Other people who worked with Flanagan in Florida echoed Sextro’s statements.
“He seemed like a fairly nice guy when we hired him,” Kevin Christopher, who worked as the main anchor for the station, told BuzzFeed News. “He was a nice-looking young man, and he was fairly well-spoken. But he was not the greatest employee in the world. He just wasn’t getting the work done, and he always thought it was someone else’s fault.”
Christopher also said Flanagan was fired from WTWC-TV because of his poor performance, and that his discrimination lawsuit was “frivolous and without merit.”
After his suit against WTWC-TV, he worked in customer service for Bank of America and Pacific Gas and Electric Company, according to his LinkedIn, before returning to news in 2002. North Carolina station WNCT TV confirmed to BuzzFeed News he was an employee from 2002–2004.
Kontji Anthony, a former WNCT colleague who worked with Flanagan for eight months in 2003, told BuzzFeed News she was shocked to hear he was suspected of the shooting.
“I never would have thought he would do this, but when I look back and think back, there were signs,” she said. “Nothing to this magnitude.”
“He was always very kind to me, but I know that there were some tensions with other employees,” Anthony said.
“Back then he also had some work tension. He worried about cutting it as a reporter. He had some trouble going on inside even back then.”
Don Shafer, Flanagan’s former WCTV boss, said he was in shock at Wednesday’s shooting. “When I heard that he was the one that was the prime suspect, it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up,” Shafer said. “It’s one of those things that’s like, man, I can’t believe I haven’t seen him or talked to him in 15 years and now this.”
Tamerra Griffin, Ema O’Connor, and Ellie Hall contributed to this report.
Parker and Ward were shot in Moneta, Virginia, near Roanoke. An earlier version of this story incorrectly said they were shot in Roanoke.
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