The on-air shooting deaths of Virginia TV reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward and the suicide five hours later of gunman Vester Flanagan played out in a sort of surreal time, spilling from TV screens within range of the Roanoke station’s signal to horrified viewers the world over via social media. Five hours of horror, delivered in electronic bursts.
Here’s how it unfolded from when the “Mornin'” show crew arrived for work Wednesday until Flanagan, who was fired from the station two years earlier, shot himself on Interstate 66 about 200 miles away.
4:17 a.m.: “@KimberlyWDBJ Congrats to our awesome @WDBJMornin producer Melissa Ott on her new job in Charlotte. We will miss you!”
WDBJ morning anchor Kimberly McBroom tweets a picture of Ott. It is her last day at the station. Ott, Ward’s fiancee, is moving to a job in a bigger market in North Carolina. Ward brings flowers. Parker brings balloons. McBroom brings the cake.
After a brief celebration, everyone goes to work.
5 a.m.: The “Mornin'” show starts.
5:10 a.m.: Parker and Ward have their first live segment from an outdoor shopping center in Moneta, about 45 minutes outside town. They are doing a feature on the tourist community of Smith Mountain Lake.
6:12 a.m.: “@KimberlyWDBJ Next year marks @smlchamber 50th anniversary! @AParkerWDBJ7 is live with how they’re already planning to celebrate.”
McBroom teases the live crew’s story of the day. She often tweets during program breaks. Sometimes she promotes what is coming up. Sometimes the messages are more personal, like happy birthday to a co-worker.
6:45 a.m.: Some 40,000 viewers watch Parker’s last scheduled live spot interviewing Vicki Gardner, executive director of the Smith Mountain Lake Chamber of Commerce. Among them is Franklin County Sheriff Bill Overton. He knows Parker and Ward, having done a live shot with them a few weeks earlier.
Gardner talks about bringing in tourists. Ward pans the camera out toward the lake and a miniature golf course before bringing it back to a tight shot of Parker interviewing Gardner.
6:46 a.m.: Eight shots ring out on air. Parker looks panicked, screams and runs. Ward’s camera falls, catching a brief glimpse of a gunman in dark clothing.
Ott sees the whole thing unfold from the control room. The feed quickly switches back to McBroom at the anchor desk. She looks stunned for just a moment, then regains her composure.
“OK. Not sure what happened there. We will of course let you know as soon as we find out what those sounds were from,” she says, sending the show to commercial.
“Like many others watching this morning’s broadcast, I couldn’t understand myself what was happening at the time,” the sheriff says later.
Ward’s camera is still rolling. It shows an empty boardwalk, with his arm in the shot.
Back at the station, the staff hears emergency crews arrive over the feed from the camera. Someone at the scene says, “Three down.”
7:03 a.m.: “@WDBJ7 We are trying to figure out what just happened — thank you for all your concern and kind words.”
The station has begun its regular airing of “This Morning” on CBS.
7:12 a.m.: A local viewer who captured WDBJ’s video of the shooting posts it to Twitter and Facebook. It spreads quickly, starting with television reporters in other markets.
8:26 a.m.: A 23-page fax from Flanagan arrives at ABC News in New York, detailing his reasons for the killings. In it, Flanagan writes he admires other mass killers and felt discriminated against all his life because he was a gay black man. He writes: “I’ve been a human powder keg for a while . just waiting to go BOOM!!!!”
8:45 a.m.: WDBJ breaks into programming. General Manager Jeffrey Marks said it is his “very, very sad duty to report” Parker and Ward are dead.
9:31 a.m.: “@chrishurstwdbj She was the most radiant woman I ever met. And for some reason she loved me back. She loved her family, her parents and her brother.”
Parker’s boyfriend, WDBJ evening anchor Chris Hurst, sends four tweets. One is a picture of them together. He calls their nine-month relationship the best time of their lives. He writes he is numb.
Hurst said he made Parker a smoothie and scrambled eggs for breakfast. He would see her when he came home from the evening show and she was getting ready for the morning show. Her last text to him was “good night sweet boy.”
About 10:05 a.m.: Flanagan calls ABC News and admits to the killings. He says authorities are “after me” and “all over the place” and hangs up. ABC immediately alerts investigators to the fax.
10:08 a.m.: Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe starts his “Ask The Governor” segment on WTOP-FM in Washington with an update saying the shooter was a disgruntled employee and police were in pursuit.
10:17 a.m.: The first tweets are made with Flanagan’s name and car from information heard over the Virginia State Police’s radio system.
Flanagan leaves his Ford Mustang at Roanoke Regional Airport and heads up Interstate 81 in a rental car. He sends a text to a friend saying he did something stupid. Scanner traffic from that morning had police trying to track him based on what cellphone towers were being used by his iPhone.
10:24 a.m.: “@WTOP An update on the pursuit from #VA Gov.: State Police are right behind the suspected shooter, have his license plate.”
WTOP’s tweet came just after McAuliffe says on the radio show that an arrest in the shooting is “imminent.” State police send out a news release clarifying they weren’t in a chase with Flanagan.
Virginia State Police have now realized Flanagan has switched cars. They issue a bulletin on his rental car over their radio network. Twitter users listening to the scanner traffic available on the Internet share that information. It is widely retweeted. It also leads to a rash of tweets and media reports giving his first name as “Lester” rather than “Vester.”
10:26 a.m.: “@WDBJ7 Vicki Gardner of the Smith Mountain Lake Chamber of Commerce was hurt in the shooting. We are told she is in surgery. “
Gardner is recovering from being shot in the back.
About 11 a.m.: State police issue a frame grab of the shooter taken from WDBJ’s footage. It shows him aiming a pistol toward Ward’s camera on the ground.
“Is he coming to the station?” assistant news director Greg Baldwin later tells ABC about what was going through his head once he realized the suspect’s identity. “Is he coming to the station to kill us all?”
11:09 a.m.: “@bryce_williams7 Alison made racist comments”
Flanagan makes the first of several tweets from an accounting using his on-air name of Bryce Williams.
11:09 a.m.: “@bryce_williams7 EEOC report filed”
11:10 a.m.: “@bryce_williams7 They hired her after that???”
11:11 a.m.: “@bryce_williams7 Adam went to hr on me after working with me one time!!!”
11:11 a.m.: “@bryce_williams7 I filmed the shooting see Facebook”
11:15 a.m.: Two videos arrive within a minute of each other on the Bryce Williams page. They show the beginning and end of the shooting from the gunman’s perspective. The same video in a single continuous shot is posted to Williams’ Facebook page.
The gunman quietly walks up to the interview. He points his gun at Parker. He is breathing heavy and quietly curses her. She doesn’t look his way and continues to interview Gardner.
He turns to Ward. He waits 20 seconds for Ward to pan back to Parker. He points his gun at the reporter and fires. She screams and runs as eight quick shots are heard. The picture goes black.
At least seven more ring out, more methodically now.
11:30 a.m.: A machine that can read license plates on cars as they drive alerts a Virginia state trooper to Flanagan’s rented Chevrolet Sonic. She follows the silver sedan on Interstate 66 approaching Washington and verifies the tag number.
Backup arrives and they turn on their blue lights and try to pull Flanagan over. He refuses to stop. His car swerves and crashes.
Police find two Glock pistols, three license plates and a wig in the vehicle.
11:35 a.m.: “@wattsupbrent Our #WDBJ crew was literally ambushed this morning. Please DO NOT share, or post the video.”
WDBJ chief meteorologist Brent Watts’ plea is retweeted more than 2,000 times. Flanagan’s videos are on Twitter and Facebook less than an hour before both sites delete them. But the videos still rapidly spread. The autoplay feature on the social media sites start the clips without some people even clicking.
11:48 a.m.: “WDBJ7 #BREAKING: Man suspected of killing two WDBJ7 employees kills himself on I-66 in Fauquier Co.”
Media outlets later retract the report. Flanagan had a weak pulse and was rushed to a hospital.
1:13 p.m.: Watts retweets a picture taken by a station photographer of the cabinet where Ward kept his camera gear. Above the cabinet is yellow tape that says “Adam 7.”
“@wattsupbrent May this tape NEVER be removed. RT @Photog_Josh: #WDBJ7”
1:26 p.m.: Flanagan dies at Inova Fairfax Hospital near Washington. An autopsy determines he killed himself with a gunshot to the head.
4:36 a.m. Thursday: “@KimberlyWDBJ Preparing for a very difficult @WDBJ7Mornin broadcast. But I am strengthened by your love and condolences. We will get through this together.”
6:45 a.m.: With Ott’s balloons and flowers still in the newsroom, the “Mornin'” show holds a moment of silence. McBroom holds hands with the longtime morning weather man and an anchor from a visiting station.
12:20 p.m.: “@KimberlyWDBJ This has been the toughest day of my career, but I will carry on for @AParkerWDBJ7 and Adam @dowork88. I miss and love you both so much.”