Active Shooter Attacks News Crew In Moneta, Virginia, Police Say — UPDATE
The Franklin County Sheriff's Department responded to reports of an active shooter in Moneta, Virginia, early Wednesday morning, according to networks WSET and WJLA and the Associated Press. Reports said the shooter was at Bridgewater Plaza, a shopping center on Smith Mountain Lake. The shooting occurred while a WDBJ7 news team was recording a live broadcast. The news station confirmed that the shooting involved one of its crews, according to Fox News. Police said there were three victims: Alison Parker, WDBJ7's reporter, Adam Ward, the station's camera person, and Vicki Gardner, a head of the regional Chamber of Commerce, whom Parker was interviewing. Update: The WDBJ7 general manager has confirmed that Parker and Ward have died, according to Fox17. The third victim, Vicki Gardner, was in surgery Wednesday morning. The suspect, Vester Lee Flanagan, shot himself just before noon after a chase by police.
Police have since identified the alleged shooter as Vester Lee Flanagan, according to CBS News. Flanagan has since shot himself, but he is still alive and in critical condition, according to WDBJ7's live newscast. Flanagan shot himself after being confronted by law enforcement on the I-66 highway near Front Royal, according to NBC12. Flanagan shot himself just after posting videos of the shooting to his Twitter account, where he goes by Bryce Williams. The account has since been suspended, but screenshots from the account show angry tweets where Williams alleges that Parker made racist comments and Ward reported Flanagan to human resources once.
Earlier Wednesday morning, Gov. Terry McAuliffe told radio station WTOP that the police were "in pursuit of the suspect," according to a tweet from reporter Jamie Forzato. "We know who the suspect is. Believe he was disgruntled employee of TV station," McAuliffe told WTOP. Police chased the suspect north on I-81, and then onto I-64, about 20 minutes north of Verona, according to WHSV3. However, Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller told CBS News the police were not engaged in any pursuit with the suspect's vehicle.
In the video of the shooting, a WDBJ7 news team is conducting a live interview from Bridgewater Plaza. Then, approximately eight gunshots are heard and people scream. The camera then drops to the ground and the broadcast cuts back to the anchor desk, according to Fox17.
WDBJ7 tweeted that they were "trying to figure out just what happened." WDBJ7 General Manager Jeff Marks said they did not know the shooter's motive, but that they trusted the Franklin County police to track him down, according to CNN:
We do know that the Franklin County Sheriff ... they are working very diligently to track down both the motive and the person responsible for this terrible crime against two fine journalists. ... Our hearts are broken. We have people walking around here in tears, lots of hugs.
Stills of the suspect taken from Ward's video of the incident circulated the internet Wednesday in an effort to catch him. Social media users encouraged others not to share or watch video of the shooting, but instead to share the alleged shooter's image to help police in their hunt.
McAuliffe tweeted that he was heartbroken over the shooting.
Parker and Ward are being remembered by their coworkers. Kimberly McBroom, anchor of the WDBJ7's "Mornin'" newscast, told the Star-Exponent newspaper that the two will be greatly missed:
We've lost two members of our family. [Others have] lost a daughter, a son, a fiancee.