Documents: Va. shooting suspect had a history of racial complaints
WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) —
The man suspected of killing a Virginia reporter and cameraman during a live broadcast Wednesday morning reportedly wrote in a document faxed to ABC News that the killings were a reaction to the murders of nine people at a Charleston, South Carolina church in June.
The suspect, identified by police as Vester Flanagan, had worked at WDBJ in Virginia as a multimedia journalist under the name Bryce Williams. During a live morning news segment Wednesday, police say Flanagan shot and killed reporter Alison Parker and Adam Ward and wounded the chamber of commerce official they were interviewing.
Following an intense manhunt, Virginia State Police say Flanagan crashed his car on I-66 in Faquier County before officers were able to apprehend him and he was found suffering from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Police confirmed Wednesday afternoon that he has died.
Activity on Twitter and Facebook accounts for "Bryce Williams" that have since been disabled indicates that Flanagan may have been tweeting while on the run. This includes video of the shooting itself recorded from the gunman's perspective and comments suggesting a possible motive.
The tweets allege that Parker had made racist comments and that Ward had complained to human resources about Flanagan.
ABC News reported that it had received a phone call and a 23-page fax from someone claiming to be "Bryce Williams" on Wednesday morning. The station turned the document over to authorities.
According to ABC, the document states that the shooting was a response to the Charleston church shooting in June.
"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 As for Dylann Roof? You (deleted)! You want a race war (deleted)? BRING IT THEN YOU WHITE (deleted)!!!" ABC quotes the document as saying, referring to the suspect in the Charleston shooting.
In the document, the writer talks about anger at discrimination and bullying he faced for being a gay, black man.
"My anger has been building steadily...I've been a human powder keg for a whilejust waiting to go BOOM!!!!" it states.
WDBJ General Manager Jeff Marks said on the air Wednesday that Flanagan was difficult to work with and that he filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after he was fired. According to Marks, none of the racial comments he claimed others made could be corroborated and the complaint was dismissed.
"He was sort of looking out for people to say things that he could take offense to," Marks said. He added that the station had to call police to escort Flanagan from the building when he was fired.
Flanagan filed a lawsuit against Marks and WDBJ last year. WJLA is working to obtain more information about that case, but the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that he was seeking money he thought he was owed and he alleged discrimination. The case was later dismissed.
In 2000, Flanagan filed a lawsuit against WTWC in Leon County, Florida, where he had been a reporter and anchor, alleging that co-workers there made racist comments about him and others. The station denied in court documents that he had been discriminated against, and the case was eventually settled.
According to his LinkedIn profile, Flanagan worked for several other companies, including Bank of America, Pacific Gas and Electric Company and North Carolina news station WNCT, before he was hired by WDBJ in 2012.
Dr. Stephen Reich, a forensic psychologist, attorney and director of the Forensic Psychology Group, said it is difficult to make definitive statements about the suspect until more information is released, but the fact that the gunman recorded the shooting is significant.
"A critical fact in this scenario is that the shooter was involved in the incident in two different ways: as an actor in the event and as the producer of a reality TV program filming what he was experiencing," Reich said.
"The act of filming his involvement as the shooter indicates a strong narcissistic component in his personality, that he not only wished to take revenge for alleged slurs and to possibly take revenge for what had happened to him when he was an employee of the station, but to be seen by the world as an important figure in the world who commands the attention of the world."
According to Dr. George Kirkham, a criminologist and law enforcement consultant, the sending of the document to ABC suggests the alleged killer did not plan to survive the event and wanted his words to live on.
"Suicide and homicide are really opposite sides of the same coin," he said, and shooters in this type of incident often do not expect to live.
Dr. Mark Siegert, a forensic psychologist and partner in Threat Assessment Experts, noted echoes of Virginia Tech gunman Seung-Hui Cho in Flanagan's alleged behavior. Cho sent an 1,800-word manifesto and several videos to NBC News on the day of the 2007 shooting, in which he killed 32 people before committing suicide.
Bridgewater Plaza in Moneta, Virginia, where Wednesday's shooting took place, is about 60 miles from Virginia Tech. The writer of the document sent to ABC News Wednesday refers to Cho as "my boy" and praises him for killing nearly twice as many people as the Columbine killers.
Siegert said shooters in many incidents since Virginia Tech have been trying to get attention and have used similar tactics to do so.
"One of the biggest problems we've been having with these active shooters is that they do seem to be competing with one another and wanting attention," he said.
The motive suggested by Flanagan's alleged tweets, that he was mistreated at work, was not surprising, according to Siegert, even though it seems grossly disproportionate to other people.
"Often the supposed motive doesn't fit well to most of us with the act they're doing," he said.
Flanagan's alleged Twitter account appears to have only been active for about a week, posting numerous photos that seem to show him as a child and at various points in his career. The Facebook account features similar photos, videos of Flanagan's old news reportsincluding one recorded at a firing rangeand videos of his cat.
In Facebook comments from earlier this month, the user does complain about his stint at WTWC and also mentions having briefly worked at a Texas station where "the news director was a nightmare and complained I was TOO NICE!! LOL!! Seriously?"
WTWC is a Sinclair Broadcast Group station. Sinclair released a statement about Flanagan's employment at the station:
Mr. Flanagan was employed at this station for approximately one year, from March 1999 through March 2000. It is true that he filed charges of discrimination which were dismissed by the EEOC and he filed a lawsuit against the station early in 2000. All issues with Mr. Flanagan were resolved in 2000.
There is nothing indicative of violence in the Twitter profile until mid-morning Wednesday, when the account tweeted accusations against Parker and Ward and posted the video of the shooting. Before the account was disabled, the shooting video was retweeted over 1,000 times, and someone who recorded it off a computer screen uploaded it to YouTube, which the experts did not find surprising.
"That the incident commanded such immediate attention via Twitter and Facebook demonstrates how profoundly these social media aspects of society have taken hold in the culture," Reich said. "Communication has become so immediate, so instantaneous, so of-the-moment that communication about life becomes part of the life experience itself."
Noting the popularity of crime procedural dramas, Siegert said people have become more and more interested in this type of story and desensitized to the violence to some extent. As a result, some may have not thought much of retweeting the violent and disturbing video.
"It doesn't appear to be having the same size impact it once had, so it becomes more like forwarding a news story," he said.
The way the story played out on social media, with users interacting with events as they were occurring and watching video of the crime filmed by the killer, may be a sign of a larger societal trend, Reich said.
"One generation ago or two generations ago, there would be a time lapse between the occurrence of an event, the communication about the event, and the analysis of the event, whereas presently all of these things become merged."