Shock, tears as US TV station grapples with on-air murders
Outside the studio gates, dozens of WDBJ viewers solemnly converged before sunset to place bouquets of flowers and shiny remembrance balloons under a tree wrapped with two black mourning ribbons.world Updated: Aug 27, 2015 12:56 IST
On any other day, Nadine Maeser would have been out and about, doing her job, covering the darker side of southern Virginia for WDBJ television.
But Wednesday was like no other for the crime reporter -- indeed, for the entire local TV station -- after the shocking and brutal murder at gunpoint of two beloved colleagues during a live telecast.
"I've been out of the mix today," confessed Maeser outside WDBJ's studios in Roanoke, press credentials dangling from her neck, dark sunglasses concealing the tears swelling in her eyes.
Maeser told AFP she was just rolling out of bed at the crack of dawn when she got an unexpected telephone call from her news director, telling her to hurry into work immediately.She didn't yet know that, just minutes earlier, reporter Alison Parker, 24, and cameraman Adam Ward, 27, had been shot and killed on air by a disgruntled former WDBJ reporter.
Community members bow their heads during prayer vigil organized by Vitalize Church in Hardy for the WDBJ journalists killed on Wednesday. (Griffin Moores/The Daily News Leader via AP)
Posted murder video
The gunman, Vester Lee Flanagan, 41, also known as Bryce Williams, later fatally shot himself when police caught up with his getaway car -- but not before posting his own video of the murder.
"A lot of us didn't know what had happened" when they were called in, Maeser said between hugs and condolences from friends and colleagues.
"And when we came in, we were waiting for the confirmation (that Parker and Ward had died) -- and then we got it," she said.
"We've been trying to stick together since then."
Outside the studio gates, dozens of WDBJ viewers solemnly converged before sunset to place bouquets of flowers and shiny remembrance balloons under a tree wrapped with two black mourning ribbons.
Local clergy led prayers, and a barbecue trailer set up shop, with proceeds from its hotdog and hamburger sales earmarked for the two victims' kin.
Parker and Ward were the youthful, energetic and ambitious early morning reporting duo at WDBJ, a CBS affiliate that covers mainly rural southern Virginia with an editorial staff of about 50.
'Full of life'
"They were both full of life, energetic people," Maeser said.
After hours, Parker was dating the station's evening anchor Chris Hurst, while Ward was engaged to morning show producer Melissa Ott.
Ott was working her last day before taking up a new job at a bigger TV station in Charlotte, North Carolina, with Ward to follow her later.
Ott was in the control room and witnessed her fiance's death in shock -- and as a fellow New Jersey native and close friend, it fell on Maeser to console her throughout the day.
"Having to witness anyone being murdered, it's not easy," Maeser said. "But your loved one? Someone you intended to spend the rest of your life with?"
"I was supposed to be at their wedding. I was going to be a bridesmaid. They were set to get married next summer in Charleston, South Carolina," she added, choking back tears.
Maeser did not personally know the gunman, but she was one of two people hired to replace him after he was fired by WDBJ.
How two US journalists where shot to death on-air
(Warning: Viewer Discretion Advised)
"I've heard a number of stories about him," she said. "I don't want to go into details, just that he wasn't easy to work with."
WDBJ cameraman Allen Francis, who turns 25 on Friday, covered for Ward on the early morning shift whenever he took vacation.
He fondly recalled helping Parker during WDBJ's live coverage of Roanoke's annual St. Patrick's Day parade, where she shared anchor duties with Hurst.
"She was just great to work with. She always was organized. She knew exactly what she wanted in live shots," he said.
"She had this energy about her, on the air and off," he added, standing alongside his tripod-mounted live video camera as WDBJ began its evening newscast.
Francis, who joined WDBJ three years ago straight out of college, knew the gunman as well, but he wasn't particularly interested in discussing him.
"He was normally in and out of the building on assignment," he said. Any lasting impressions? "I'd rather not say. I'd rather not talk about him."