The man who police say killed two journalists during a live broadcast Wednesday was no stranger to WDBJ-TV. He was Bryce Williams, a reporter for the Roanoke, Virginia, station until he was fired two years ago.
More accurately, Williams was the on-air name for Vester Lee Flanagan II.
Williams died Wednesday from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, hours after he fatally shot WDBJ reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward during the station’s morning newscast. A woman the journalists were interviewing, Vicki Gardner, also was shot and is in stable condition after undergoing surgery.
The ex-reporter moved through several television markets in his career, usually leaving after a few years, not always on good terms. Williams, who was black, sued one former employer in Florida for racial discrimination, a case that was later settled out of court.
The accusation of racism surfaced again Wednesday when Williams’ Twitter account tweeted that Parker had made racist comments. Another tweet suggested that Ward complained to human resources officials after the pair worked together.
The shooting devastated Parker and Ward’s colleagues, who covered the story as they mourned, and was shocking for the way it played out.
Williams’ Twitter account featured video that showed the shooting from the gunman’s perspective.
The same footage was posted on a Facebook page, also under the name Bryce Williams.
Both social media accounts were suspended within minutes of the video being posted.
The video does not show who is holding the recording device. In the footage, you see the camera approach the spot where Parker and Ward were conducting a live shot. The person recording hovers for a few moments just beside where the TV crew is working. The reporter and cameraman don’t appear to pay any attention to the person.
Then a gun comes into the frame, aimed at Parker, and several shots ring out.
Authorities later revealed that police tracked Williams’ cell phone to locate him.
“He was a good on-air performer, a pretty good reporter. And then things started getting a little strange,” San Diego 6 News Director Don Shafer said. Shafer hired and fired Williams at a Florida television station.
Shafer said he fired Williams for “odd behavior.”
After his termination, Williams filed a lawsuit in 2000 against WTWC-TV, a Tallahassee station.
Williams alleged a producer in an upper-level management position called him a “monkey.” The lawsuit also made other allegations of racism, including that a white worker said “blacks are lazy and do not take advantage of free money,” referring to college scholarships, and that another employee called a murder suspect “‘just another thug.”
The case was settled out of court, according to court documents.
Marie Mattox, who represented Williams in that case, said she didn’t see in him then the possibility for such violence.
“I thought that he would go on with his life and be able to make something productive of himself,” she told CNN.
LaRell Reynolds, a former WDBJ employee, told CNN that Williams was “not the best co-worker.”
“He couldn’t take criticism and he took it personally,” Reynolds said, adding that when Williams was let go he “threw a huge tantrum.”
“We were in a lockdown the day that he was fired, and a few days later we had police detail that kind of watched over the station,” he said.
Orlando Salinas, another former WDBJ employee, told Adweek’s TVSpy that Williams often complained about racism in the workplace.
According to Salinas, on Williams’ last day at the station, he created a “ruckus” and other employees moved to another room while police escorted him out of the building.
Williams filed a lawsuit against WDBJ, which was subsequently dismissed.
Family members of the gunman released a statement saying their thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims, and with the news station, CNN affiliate KRON reported.
“Words cannot express the hurt that we feel for the victims. Our family is asking that the media respect our privacy,” the statement read.
Police said Williams wrote a 23-page document that he faxed after the shooting to ABC News.
The document “goes to show where the gentleman’s mind was the night before” the shooting, Franklin County Sheriff Bill Overton told reporters, but he did not disclose what it said.
ABC News confirmed it received the document, reporting Williams wrote that his reaction to the racism of the Charleston, South Carolina, church shooting in June led to Wednesday’s events.
“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…,” Williams wrote, according to ABC. “What sent me over the top was the church shooting. And my hollow point bullets have the victims’ initials on them.”