The incident in Virginia was one of the most shocking live events in television history
Parker, 24, and Ward, 27, were the victims of a gunman named Vester Lee Flanagan II, a former employee of their news station, WDBJ. On the morning of August 26, 2015, Flanagan interrupted a live news segment about the upcoming 50th anniversary of Smith Mountain Lake, a man-made reservoir near Roanoke. Parker was interviewing Vicki Gardner, executive director of the local chamber of commerce, when Flanagan burst onto the scene and fired several shots. Gardner was struck but survived, while Parker and Ward died on the scene, suffering wounds to the head.
Parker and Ward both worked for WDBJ’s morning news show, Mornin’. Parker had worked for the station for about a year, and Ward for only one month. Both were Virginia natives and good friends. Parker’s boyfriend, Chris Hurst, was a fellow WDBJ news anchor who recently announced a run for the state legislature.
Flanagan went by the on-air name Bryce Williams and had a history of professional misconduct. He was accused of verbally abusing two female coworkers at a news station in Florida, and later lost his job there due to “odd behavior.” He was fired from WDBJ in 2013 after complaints from fellow reporters that he made them feel “threatened” and "uncomfortable." After hearing the news of his dismissal, Flanagan became violent in the office, throwing a wooden cross at his boss, and was eventually escorted out by police. He later posted on Facebook and Twitter that he was racially discriminated against for being black, specifically naming Parker and Ward in his posts. Shortly after the murders, Flanagan faxed a suicide note to WDBJ, then shot himself to death in a rented car on Interstate 66 after a police pursuit.
Parker and Ward’s deaths were broadcast on live television, shocking the nation. President Obama issued a statement, saying he was “heartbroken” by the incident. Parker’s father, Andy, became a spokesperson for gun violence prevention, challenging the NRA and politicians on the issue.
The shooting also led to several press controversies; the New York Post and New York Daily News were condemned for posting still images from Flanagan’s phone video of the murders (which he published on Facebook and Twitter before his death), as were several British tabloids. Other outlets like CNN and NBC Nightly News aired partial clips of the shooting in segments.