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Emotional morning newscast the day after TV killings

By JONATHAN DREW and ALAN SUDERMAN
Associated Press

MONETA, Va. (AP) - One day after the on-air killings of reporter and a cameraman, the grieving staff at WDBJ-TV came together Thursday for an emotional broadcast of its "Mornin'" show.

At 6:45 a.m. - the time of the shooting that took the lives of reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward - the station observed a moment of silence, showing their photos on the screens.

Anchor Kim McBroom, who was on the anchor desk during Wednesday's shooting and tried to reassure viewers immediately after the attack was broadcast, joined hands with weatherman Leo Hirsbrunner and fellow anchor Steve Grant, who came in from sister station KYTV in Springfield, Missouri.

"Joining hands here on the desk. It's the only way to do it," she said just before the moment of silence.

The fatal shooting happened during a live TV interview as tens of thousands of viewers watched. Within hours, the carefully scripted carnage carried out by a disgruntled former colleague spread online and elsewhere to viewers gripped by what had transformed into a social media storm.

Shortly after the shooting, social media posts referencing the slain TV pair surfaced on an account under an on-air pseudonym used by the gunman - culminating with a video of the ambush filmed by the shooter.

During his forecast Thursday morning, Hirsbrunner's voice trembled as he recalled how Ward would check in with him every morning about the weather before going out on assignment.

"I don't even know how to do weather on a day like this," he said. McBroom told him: "Good job, partner. We're going to get through this together."

The morning broadcast included a series of news pieces on the shooting. One looked at the criminal investigation of gunman Vester Lee Flanagan II, the former WDBJ-TV reporter known to viewers by his on-air name Bryce Williams. He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound hours after the shooting.

His family released a statement through a representative, expressing condolences for the victims' families and asking for privacy: "Words cannot express the hurt that we feel," it read in part.

The social media post made Wednesday through an account under the Bryce Williams name had a 56-second video clip. It shows Flanagan quietly approach Parker and Ward, gun in hand, as they conduct an interview. Ward's camera was aimed at the mini-golf course nearby instead of the reporter. So the shooter waited - cursing Parker under his breath - for 20 seconds until the live television picture was back on the reporter. Then he fired eight shots without saying a word.

The attack was carefully planned. Flanagan was captured in a rental car he reserved at some point before the shootings; his own Mustang was found abandoned at the local airport, Franklin County Sheriff Bill Overton said. The interview was done at a shopping center not yet open for the day at a remote lake in Moneta, some 25 miles away from WDBJ's studios in Roanoke. The station promoted where the reporter would be, including a plug on Twitter just a half hour before the shooting.

About three hours after the killing, ABC News reported it received a 23-page faxed statement from someone named Bryce Williams.

Unlike so many crimes, which have to be pieced together in reverse, this one played out in real time on Twitter and Facebook. The station's live footage of the shooting was being shared over and over before even station managers knew the fate of their employees. Some 40,000 viewers had initially tuned in, including the local sheriff, and heard Parker scream. They saw her run as the camera fell, capturing a fleeting image of a man holding a handgun.

It wasn't Flanagan's first encounter with the pair. The 41-year-old had been fired by the station in 2013 and had to be escorted out of the building, President and General Manager Jeffrey Marks said.

On Twitter, Flanagan described workplace conflicts with both of his victims. He said Parker had made racist comments and that she was still hired after he filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Ward had reported him to human resources, he said.

Flanagan alleged that other employees made racially tinged comments to him, but his EEOC claim was dismissed and none of his allegations could be corroborated, Marks said.

Dan Dennison, now a state government spokesman in Hawaii, was the WDBJ news director who hired Flanagan in 2012 and fired him in 2013, largely for performance issues, he said.

"We did a thorough investigation and could find no evidence that anyone had racially discriminated against this man," Dennison said.

When Flanagan was fired, he refused to leave and the station called police. In court documents from a lawsuit Flanagan filed against the station, Dennison wrote that as Flanagan was finally being escorted out, he placed a wooden cross in Dennison's hand and told him, "You'll need this."

Ward recorded the incident and Flanagan insulted him and flipped off the camera, the documents said.

In a letter to the judge, Flanagan wrote of his firing, "How heartless can you be? My entire life was disrupted after moving clear across the country for a job only to have my dream turn into a nightmare. ... Your Honor, I am not the monster here."

Flanagan, who represented himself in the lawsuit, wanted a "jury to be comprised of African-American women."

A judge dismissed the lawsuit in July 2014, a week before it was scheduled for trial.

Flanagan was fired at least twice from small-market stations after managers said he caused problems with other employees.

In the fax to ABC, Flanagan called himself a gay black man who had been mistreated by people of all races. He said he bought the gun two days after nine black people were killed in a June 17 shooting at a Charleston, South Carolina, church and wanted to use it to retaliate for what authorities called a racially motivated shooting. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said the gun was purchased legally.

The fax also included admiration for the gunmen who carried out mass killings at Virginia Tech in 2007 and Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999.

He described himself as a "human powder keg" that was "just waiting to go BOOM!!!!"

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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