Virginia Shooting Sparks Discussions About Journalism, Gun Control (Updated)
Updated 2:40 p.m. | After two journalists were shot and killed in southwest Virginia Wednesday morning, one nearby congressman said their tragic deaths highlighted the risks of their profession.
Reporter Alison Parker, 24, and cameraman Adam Ward, 27, of the CBS affiliate WDBJ7 in Roanoke, Va., were shot and killed during a live broadcast at Smith Mountain Lake. The suspected shooter is former WDBJ employee Vester Flanagan, according to multiple reports. Condolences came pouring in from members of Virginia’s congressional delegation and other officials, expressing shock and sadness at the brutal murders. For one lawmaker, their murder also pointed to the risks journalists take as they go on assignment. “At times, we can forget that journalists and others in the public eye may find themselves at risk,” Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., said in a statement. “Alison and Adam were not reporting from the scene of a crime or a potentially violent location this morning when this horrible event took place. Instead, they were at one of our region’s popular recreational areas. I am deeply grateful for the important work undertaken by journalists regardless of this risk, and appreciate the efforts of law enforcement and first responders to keep them, others, and our communities safe from harm.”
As news of the shooting broke, the Poynter Institute, an organization that educates journalists, noted the murders were the first time since 2007 journalists had been killed on assignment in the U.S. That figure does not include 27-year-old Charnice Milton, who wrote for a local D.C. paper, and was shot and killed in May as she was returning home from covering a story. Police said she was not the intended target. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 39 journalists have been killed worldwide so far in 2015.
Others took the news of the shooting to highlight the need for stricter gun control. Former Democratic Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who nearly died after being shot in the head during a constituent event in 2011, said in a joint statement with her husband Mark Kelly, with whom she founded Americans for Responsible Solutions: “While we don’t yet know all the details of what happened this morning, we know that an attack like this on journalists is an affront to the values we all share.”
“Our country has a gun violence problem, and shootings like these are far too common in our country,” they continued. “Many times, they happen behind close doors, in homes and schools and movie theaters. But this time, the horror unfolded live and on air, for all to see.”
For the WDBJ7 news team, the tragedy brought the shootings they are often tasked to cover extremely close to home.
“We realize we cover stories of people being shot all the time. And so now we realize firsthand what so many of you have sadly gone through,” said WDBJ7 anchor Jean Jadhon. “That when it’s someone you know and someone you love and care about, someone you work with day in and day out, and someone so young, it’s just so tough.”
The news team remembered their fallen colleagues Wednesday morning. Parker was described as “a rockstar.” “You throw anything at that girl and she could do it,” said Kimberly McBoom. Jadhon noted that Ward always wore a smile on his face while covering the news. Meteorologist Leo Hirsbrunner said the team would brighten up early mornings at the station noting, “They just make this newsroom come alive.”
Authorities told reporters Wednesday afternoon that Flanagan died at approximately 1:30 p.m. from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Franklin County Sheriff W.Q. “Bill” Overton, Jr., said at a press conference that police were still investigating the motive in the shooting, though he did confirm Flanagan was a former employee of the station. “The gunman was disturbed in some way,” Overton said, later adding, “it appeared things were spiraling out of control.”