Four months after she was shot in the back during a live television interview, Vicki Gardner said she's almost out of recovery and looking forward to going back to work — the very place where the shooting occurred.
"[My work] is such a joyous place," Gardner told CNN of Smith Mountain Lake in Roanoke, Virginia. "It was right outside my window where this tragedy happened ... but that is not defining where I work."
Gardner, who is the head of the lake's chamber of commerce, was being interviewed by reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward of the local station WDBJ for a live segment on the lake's 50th anniversary when all three were shot.
They were wrapping up the 6:45 a.m. interview when Gardner saw a man approaching them over Parker's shoulder. "I was a little distracted but I was not concerned," she said. "I was thinking he was going to ask a question."
The man was Vester Flanagan, 41, a former WDBJ employee. "When he opened fire, it was still very difficult to comprehend what was happening," Gardner said.
With the camera still rolling, Flanagan first shot Parker, then Ward, causing the camera to fall. The WDBJ control room cut to commercial.
Parker, though injured, attempted to run away, Gardner said. Flanagan chased after her, and Gardner instinctively lay still on the ground next to Ward's body.
After shooting Parker dead, Flanagan returned and shot Gardner once in the back. She said she believed he ran out of bullets, or he would have kept shooting her.
Not knowing whether the shooter had left, Gardner waited, wondering if help would get to her in time to save her life.
"As I relive this in my mind, was there anything else I could have done that would have made a difference?" Gardner said. "Absolutely not."
Flanagan fled the scene in a rental car. He uploaded videos he had taken of the shooting with his phone on social media, shortly before he was tracked by police. Troopers found Flanagan in the car with a gunshot wound. He was pronounced dead shortly afterward.
Gardner was hospitalized for almost two weeks and underwent three surgeries. Four months later, Gardner says she feels mentally and physically recovered.
Gardner said that when she was recovering in hospital, she watched show after show containing violence as entertainment. She believes Americans have become desensitized to such images.
"When the show that you're watching, which is so engrossing and has a violent nature to it, is pre-empted by real violence, real killings out there," Gardner told CNN, "I think that people may just say, 'Enough, enough.'"
Despite the horrors she experienced, Gardner said she has emerged from recovery looking forward to her life ahead and grateful for those around her. "I've seen the worst that society can do and I have seen the best that society can do," she said. "And I am so thankful the worst is almost nothing — 99.9% of the population out there is so positive, so helpful."
A small monument — binoculars and a plaque — dedicated to Ward and Parker was erected at the site of the shooting, just outside Gardner's office window.
The binoculars enable passersby to look at what Parker and Gardner were discussing in the live segment when the shooting took place.
Ema O'Connor is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Ema O'Connor at email@example.com.
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