WDBJ GM: Flanagan handed former news director cross and said, ‘You’ll need this’

Posted at 2:48 PM, Aug 27, 2015
and last updated 2015-08-27 17:22:32-04

Scroll down for a continuous stream of updates from the news conference from our team.

ROANOKE, Va. -- WDBJ, the television station whose reporter and photojournalist were murdered during their morning newscast Wednesday, held a news conference to address the tragedy Thursday afternoon.

Vester Flanagan II, a former WDBJ reporter who was known on TV as Bryce Williams, allegedly shot and killed reporter Alison Parker, 24, and cameraman Adam Ward, 27, during a segment at Smith Mountain Lake. Vicki Gardner, head of a local chamber of commerce, whom Parker was interviewing, was also wounded.

WDBJ General Manager Jeff Marks spoke at length Thursday afternoon detailing Flanagan's employment at the station . During his brief tenure, which was just under a year, Marks said Flanagan's behavior "annoyed a lot of people in the newsroom" and that he had been warned about his poor news judgement and failure to check facts for his stories.

Marks released the following statement about Flanagan's employment:

Vester Flanagan was employed by WDBJ7 as a reporter between March 2012 and February 2013.

Flanagan applied for the position using the air name of Bryce Williams. As part of WDBJ's standard protocol his background check resulted in positive references.

Flanagan’s job performance and his interaction with his co-workers led his manager to place Flanagan on a succession of performance improvement plans. Only slight improvement was noted each time.

Flanagan was placed on a final warning in December 2012 for failure to check his facts in a news story and, generally, for poor news judgment.

In January 2013 he accused a photographer of making trouble for him by questioning a decision to go on private property in pursuit of a story. At that point, he raised some concerns with HR of perceived unfairness, which were immediately investigated and found to be without merit.

Shortly after that, he confronted an anchor who was assigned to review one of his scripts.

At that point, management made the determination that he needed to be separated from the company.
On February 1, two news managers and the HR business partner notified Flanagan of the decision to terminate his employment. He reacted angrily, telling them that they would have to call the police because he was going to “make a stink and it was going to be in the headlines.”

The HR rep called 911. Employees had been notified to give Flanagan space to clean out his desk. At his desk, Flanagan attempted to reach the corporate CEO, without success. At that point, police arrive and escorted him from the building. On the way out, he handed a wooden cross to the news director and said, “You’ll need this.” He also made a derogatory comment to Adam Ward as he left.

The only contact between WDBJ7 and Flanagan after that were routine calls to HR about termination benefits.

Shortly thereafter, Flanagan filed a complaint of harassment and discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. WDBJ7 responded that his claims of mistreatment were unfounded and the EEOC denied the claim. He later filed a civil action in local court in Roanoke. That action was dismissed.

In two and half years since the termination, WDBJ7 employees reported seeing Flanagan in public places and there were no confrontations. He was never seen following employees and he did not attempt to enter the offices of WDBJ7.

All claims of mistreatment were investigated by senior management, by the HR representative and legal counsel. All investigations determined that no reasonable person would have taken any of the cited instances as discrimination or harassment.

Marks also talked about how the close-knit newsroom is grappling with the tragedy. He said staffers are very appreciate of the food that has been dropped off at the station.

News Director Kelly Zuber said "they cry, they hug and then they get the job done."

But little things are sometimes emotional triggers and that is happening for some WDBJ staffers.

In fact, Zuber said one of the station's meteorologists discovered a discarded candy wrapper from Adam Ward Thursday morning and became upset. Additionally, the station's sports director became emotional after he saw Ward's car in the parking lot with clothes inside.

As the two staffers were gunned them down Wednesday morning, viewers were subject to it live, as were colleagues in WDBJ's control room.

"I'm trying to find the strength that she always said I had inside of me," said Chris Hurst, Parker's boyfriend and 6 and 11 p.m. anchor for WDBJ. "It doesn't feel like I have it right now, but she told me all the time that she loved me to the ends of the Earth and that she felt safe with me."

Alison Parker and Adam Ward.

Alison Parker and Adam Ward.

The couple had been dating for nine months but were already talking about marriage, he said.

"My soul has been crushed," Parker's father, Andy Parker, told CNN. "Her life was cut short. She had so much potential, and it's senseless that her life and Adam's life were taken by a crazy person with a gun."

Andy Parker now feels called to become a crusader for laws that will make it harder for the mentally ill to purchase firearms.

Parker and Ward are the first journalists killed in the United States in the line of duty since 2007, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The CNN Wire contributed to this report.