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WDBJ shooting survivor: ‘I probably saw the worst evil society can give’

Posted at 7:28 PM, May 18, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-18 19:28:19-04

PETERSBURG, Va. -- Vicki Gardner never expected to see her name in the dedication section of a David Baldacci book, as it is now.  Then again, when she agreed to do a live television interview at Smith Mountain Lake in August of last year, Gardner says she never expected it would end in tragedy.

"It was tragic; it was horrible; it was something that one would never expect," said Gardner, who spoke at a luncheon for the Petersburg Chamber of Commerce Wednesday.

The sole survivor of a shooting that took the lives of WDBJ journalists Allison Parker and Adam Ward, Gardner said she wants to honor the memory of Parker and Ward by turning the tragedy into something good.

Vicki Garnder

Vicki Garnder

"I probably saw the worst evil that society can give. It's a grain of sand by comparison to the amount of good in the world," Gardner said. "I didn't understand just how global this was."

Gardner, who was shot in the back by a disgruntled former employee at WDBJ, said during her time in the hospital was highlighted by the bags of letters of support and love sent to her from across the country. Others decided to send her money, which she said has been used to start a Community Center at Smith Mountain Lake.

"How do we turn this adversity into something that is positive? It is through the community coming together and the community saying we will not be defined by this," said Gardner of her new mission in life.

Alison Parker and Adam Ward

Alison Parker and Adam Ward

Gardner, who has returned to work at the Smith Mountain Lake Chamber of Commerce, said she thinks about Parker and Ward on a daily basis.

"Why me? Why did I come out of this and they didn't? That's a tough struggle," said Gardner.  "As awful as it is, we can't change it. We can't change what happened. We can't bring back those lives, but we can encourage other people to say, 'it was a one time incident and we're going to move ahead.' We're going to move forward."

Gardner's office at Smith Mountain Lake is not far from where the shooting occurred.  On the walkway there, a pair of large binoculars, similar to the ones used at scenic overlooks, has been set up.  Gardner said the purpose of the binoculars is to allow visitors to see the same beauty she saw with Parker and Ward the moments before the tragedy.

That is just one more way Gardner and the Smith Mountain Lake community is trying to turn a dark moment into something positive.