Condolences to our brother and sister in the field

Mark Feuerborn

I would like to begin this column by extending my condolences to the families of the WDBJ journalists that were shot in Virginia.

Last Wednesday, ex-journalist Vester Flanagan, on-air alias Bryce Williams, fatally shot and killed journalists Alison Parker and Adam Ward while live on television. Shortly after, Flanagan faxed a disturbing, 23-page document to ABC News detailing his motives, along with the message “I’ve been a human powder keg for a while…Just waiting to go BOOM.”

The sad story behind this incident goes back much farther than this most recent Wednesday. Flanagan worked with Parker and Ward at WDBJ News before being fired after a year working there. Inside the fax he sent, he claimed to have endured racial discrimination and sexual harassment throughout his time working at the news station. However, his claims have yet to be proven true. Most disturbing of all was that Flanagan expressed admiration for the Columbine and Virginia Tech shooters, and bought a gun shortly after the Charleston shooting by white supremacist Dylann Roof. Flanagan also expressed interest in starting a race war following Roof’s attempt at one.

Shortly after shooting Parker and Ward, Flanagan also tweeted calling Parker a racist and complaining about Ward reporting Flanagan to human resources at WDBJ during their time working together. I can’t imagine what working with Flanagan would be like, but I imagine if he was as demented in person as the man his fax depicted, I would have gone to the human resources department too. Flanagan also uploaded his own video of the shooting, bragging about it and encouraging people to view it.

Following the fax he sent, a manhunt by local troopers resulted in Flanagan turning his gun on himself, ending his life.

Flanagan was clearly an extremely sick person, who developed a mind with such a cruel and twisted drive to hurt others that it seems unlikely professional help could have stopped him. This was a man who needed to be locked up. I feel a deep sorrow for the man, for whatever demons he battled in his head. I know not whether his allegations of abuse at his workplace were true or not, but it is sad regardless that this man was able to acquire a gun and gleefully used it for such a destructive means.

I find myself frustrated in Flanagan’s escape from answering his crimes through suicide, though not as much as the families of Ward and Parker probably do. However, I do applaud the courage of the father of Alison Parker, Andy Parker, in his message that he does not want his daughter’s death to be in vain. Andy Parker has pleaded for the death of his daughter and Ward to remain in the news as long as possible, so to bring more attention to loopholes in the gun laws. No matter what side one is on the gun control debate, the power behind a father fighting to prevent other fathers from losing their daughters is undeniable.

I also commend mainstream media outlets such as CNN and the BBC for their accurate coverage of this tragedy, doing justice for their journalist brother and sister. In painting the picture that this was clearly a person who was mentally ill, and not focusing on trivial factors such as Flanagan’s race or sexuality, but rather his own words and actions, they provide an accurate, unbiased account, something that is supposed to be the basis of journalism. Though Flanagan referenced that he felt racially and sexually discriminated against, his claims have not been substantiated and could very well be imagined by him, and therefore the notion that this shooting was a hate crime doesn’t make sense.

Lastly, I applaud the members of WDBJ for so bravely continuing on in light of their coworkers’ deaths. Journalism is a fast-paced and dangerous field, one where a person potentially risks their life to bring light to the good and bad in the world. It is my hope that Alison Parker and Adam Ward are forever remembered for their hard work by the entire media community.