The chilling perspective was from the barrel of a .357 Magnum.
As the seconds ticked, Alison Parker remained completely unaware, standing face to face with a member of the local Chamber of Commerce. Her cameraman, Adam Ward, filming the interview about attracting local tourism that was being broadcast live to WDBJ 7 TV, had his back to the gunman.
Weapon in one hand, smartphone in the other, the menacing presence zooms in closer, then appears to step back, yet still mere feet from his targets.
It is as if he were waiting: Look up, look at me, look at your killer.
“Alison made racist comments.”
But Parker and Ward didn’t look, not until it was far too late, as if ever there had been enough time to escape. Then the first shot and now a startled Parker pivots forward, eyes and mouth popping wide open. Turning to run.
You’d think, by now, we would all be more alive to the perils of social media, the harmful nature of images that should never be seen by others.
Vester Lee Flanagan II — on-air name Bryce Williams — knew the power of instant communication.
Twice he seized his moments of infamy: First on the live broadcast as Parker’s interview went over the airwaves to untold numbers of horrified television viewers, made-for-TV murder. Second, on the video he posted to his Facebook account, managing to upload that content even as he scrambled to flee the crime scene.
It’s what we do, document ourselves, validate ourselves, share entirely too much, court notoriety.
At the TV station, Ward’s fiancée, Melissa Ott, morning show producer, was watching in the control room. Parker was engaged to evening anchor Chris Hurst.
“I filmed the shooting see Facebook.”
Flanagan tweeted that declaration at 11:10 a.m.
A disgruntled employee with, it was soon learned, a history of clashes with co-workers and a multitude of grievances, whether real or perceived. A man who considered himself a victim of serial injustice.
Fired by WDBJ, Jeff Marks would confirm after coming on air with his two co-anchors to deliver the sad news that Parker and Ward had died. “We are heartbroken.”
Flanagan had launched a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over his firing in May 2014, seeking $15,000 in compensation for alleged racial discrimination and naming most of the staff in his suit. A judge dismissed the case two months later.
“Vester was an unhappy man,” said Marks, as quoted by Buzzfeed. “He quickly gathered the reputation of someone who was difficult to work with. He was sort of looking out to people to say things he could take offence to.”
Four years previously, Flanagan had also filed suit against WTWC-TV in Tallahassee claiming racial discrimination, alleging news producers and other managers made offensive remarks about blacks and fired him for complaining about it.
Flanagan, 41, died in hospital of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, shortly after police caught up with him, tracking his location from the GPS on that same cellphone.
“They hired her after that???”
Referring, apparently, to the alleged racist remark Parker had made to him.
Flanagan continued communicating while driving away from the Bridgewater Plaza in a rented car.
“Adam went to hr on me after working with me one time!!!”
This, apparently, was the gist of his personal vendetta against the journalists.
The world has witnessed executions before — the beheading of hostages, including journalists, by radical Islamists who jubilantly post their atrocities online. But reporters working in dangerous combat areas know the risks. This was a bright early morning in a bucolic setting in a mid-size American city.
Even in a country that gave us the vernacular of “going postal,” even in a nation apparently inured to gun violence, where nihilistic stalkers have opened fire in movie theatres and elementary schools, Wednesday’s atrocity took the public to a new and absurdist place: morning TV, the fluff of broadcast journalism, happy news.
Maximum shock value and righteous impact is what the suspect clearly sought. And he got it.
A man who so terrified colleagues with his towering tantrums that they hid from him.
Motivation for murder, though, that is diffuse and essentially pointless, affording the suspect a pocket of rational thinking, skewing derangement into his version of justification and sanity.
“Why did I do it? I put down a deposit for a gun on 6/19/15. The Church shooting in Charleston happened on 6/17/15.”
Harassed because he was gay and African-American, he said.
Bought the gun two days after the shooting by a white gunman at a historical black church in South Carolina.
“What sent me over the top was the church shooting. And my hollow point bullets have the victims’ initials on them.”
Praised the Virginia Tech shooter — 32 people shot and killed in 2007.
Admired the Columbine high school shooters — 15 shot and killed in 1999, including the teenage perpetrators.
“The Charleston shooting was the tipping point ... but my anger has been building steadily ... I’ve been a human powder keg for a while ... just waiting to go BOOM!”
Knew he sounded angry, insisted he had every right to be.
“But when I leave this Earth, the only emotion I want to feel is peace.”
What he shattered was the peace of families, the victims’ blood kin and their tight newsroom clan.
Alison’s devastated father, Andy Parker, spoke to the Washington Post:
“My grief is unbearable. Is this real? Am I going to wake up? I’m crying my eyes out.”
Fifteen shots fired before the video ends, the sound of bodies tumbling, and fade to blur.
That footage was up and then taken down on Facebook, someone realizing how wrong it was to show murder play-by-play, the real-time events that unfolded early Wednesday in Franklin County, Va.