Virginia TV shooter trained at SF State

A man who started his TV journalism career in the Bay Area allegedly shot and killed two former colleagues during a live broadcast in Virginia Wednesday morning and later killed himself while fleeing police.

Franklin County Sheriff W.Q. “Bill” Overton Jr. identified the suspected shooter as reporter Vester Lee Flanagan II, who went by the on-air name Bryce Williams.

Bay Area CBS affiliate KPIX confirmed Flanagan had worked there from 1993 to 1995. He graduated from San Francisco State University in 1995 with a degree in radio/TV broadcasting.

Flanagan apparently shot himself after a brief car chase later this morning and was taken to a hospital in critical condition, according to Virginia State Police. He died about 1:30 p.m., Overton said.

He was fired from his job at WDBJ7 in Roanoke, Virginia, about two years ago. This morning, he approached reporter Alison Parker, 24, and photographer Adam Ward, 27, during a live broadcast at Bridgewater Plaza near Smith Mountain Lake in Franklin County, Virginia.

Flanagan allegedly opened fire as the pair interviewed Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce employee Vicki Gardner at about 6:45 a.m. local time, according to WDBJ. All three were shot, Parker and Ward died from their wounds and Gardner was taken to a hospital, where she had surgery and is recovering.

Flanagan fled the scene before police arrived but was quickly identified as a suspect, Overton said. He drove his 2009 Ford Mustang to a nearby airport and left in a rented Chevrolet Sonic.

A Virginia State Police trooper spotted the Sonic on Interstate Highway 81 and followed Flanagan to Interstate Highway 66 while waiting for backup, according to state police. When they tried to pull him over, Flanagan sped away.

After a short pursuit, Flanagan crashed into the highway’s median.

Once troopers caught up with him they found him suffering from an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was taken to a hospital but died a short time later.

WDBJ7 general manager and president Jeffrey Marks said during a live broadcast today that Flanagan left the station about two years ago but remained in the area and apparently tracked down the news crew while watching the live broadcast.

Flanagan was employed as a reporter there. He had TV news experience but had been out of the business for a while. Marks said other employees found him angry and difficult to work with:

“Eventually after many incidents of his anger coming to the fore, we dismissed him. …¬†He did not take that well, we had to have police escort him from the building.”

Flanagan filed a complaint against the station alleging incidents of racism during his employment there, but Marks said those reports could not be corroborated and he believes they were “fabricated.”

Overton said today that Flanagan sent a lengthy document about this morning’s shooting to a news station in New York. The station turned the document over to investigators, but Overton did not disclose any of its contents:

“It’s obvious this gentleman was disturbed in some way. … Things were spiraling out of control.”

The sheriff said he had met the two victims personally during an interview with the pair weeks ago. He said he was watching the broadcast as the shooting happened:

“I’m not even sure that the individuals who were shot and killed even realized he was there.”

San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr said today that his staff has been in “constant contact” with local news stations after this morning’s events in Virginia:

“The people in Virginia are in our thoughts and prayers.”