A former coworkers and former manager at WDBJ-TV said Vester
Flanagan, the man who shot and killed two journalists on live
television here, was an angry man and less-than-stellar reporter
who misconstrued innocent happenstances as racist slights.
Flanagan’s tenure at the station lasted less than a year, from
March 2012 to February 2013.
He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound while being pursued by
police after the shooting at Smith Mountain Lake Wednesday.
Reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward were killed.
Vicki Gardner, a chamber of commerce official at Smith Mountain
Lake, was shot in the chest and was in good condition at the
hospital Thursday, her husband Tim Gardner said.
WDBJ General Manager Jeff Marks described two of the instances
listed in a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission by Flanagan, who was known at the station by the air
name Bryce Williams. One was that on assignment he was
intentionally told to pass by Cottonseed Road in an attempt at
racial harrasment. Flanagan also complained about a lone
watermelon at a summer picnic at the station, Marks said. (NOTE:
I can’t find Cottonseed Road on a Virginia map, and I can’t find
a copy of the EEOC complaint.)
“He accused us of placing it there to send him a message,” Marks
said. “We have no tolerance for racial discrimination or
harassment. We don’t do it.”
The EEOC dismissed the complaint and a lawsuit that Flanagan
filed was also dismissed, Marks said.
Flanagan’s grievances were imaginary and fit a pattern of poor
performance and behavior problems that eventually resulted in
his dismissal and call for him to be removed from the station by
four police officers.
Flanagan did not exhibit violent tendencies, but he was
argumentative and made people uncomfortable, Marks said.
Reporter Justin Ward, who is no relation to Adam Ward, said he
never encountered a difficult situation with Flanagan, though he
was struck once with something he said.
“He said ‘You’re really picky, you’re really into this job,’”
Ward said. “It wasn’t a compliment, it was like he was jealous.”
Ward said Flanagan’s on-camera segments sometimes were unusual.
For Halloween he once did an entire segment in full costume in
an apparent attempt at humor. It came across as odd, Ward said.
Ward said he heard about Flanagan’s last day at the station over
the phone from Adam Ward. “He said there’s a situation here, and
if you call the newsroom nobody’s going to answer because they
were all told to leave.”
Marks on Thursday said Adam Ward was asked to film Flanagan’s
departure, to document the incident for the company.
Flanagan was fired for a combination of reasons, Marks said.
“He had a short fuse,” Marks said. “People didn’t enjoy working
He showed poor news judgment, failed to check his facts and once
got into a confrontation with a coworker who objected to
trespassing on private property for a story. And he was
generally a poor reporter, Marks said.
“He didn’t investigate, he wrote down people said and repeated
it back. He wasn’t thorough,” Marks told USA TODAY.
Managers tried to coach and help Flanagan, but he would blame
others for his shortcomings and his work did not improve.
“We made it mandatory that he seek help from our company
employee assistance program,” Marks said. “He complied with what
we asked him to do.”
But whatever the program recommended didn’t stick, Marks said.
After Flanagan was fired, Marks heard from time to time that
Flanagan had been seen in the neighborhood. He lived near the
station. He had a discrimination lawsuit pending against the
company, which was dismissed a few months ago. According to a
22-page manifesto Flanagan sent to ABC News, the shooting in
Charleston, S.C., of 12 black churchgoers by a White Supremacist
sent him over the edge.