ROANOKE, Va. – The woman who survived the on-air shooting that killed two TV journalists says she never saw the gunman walk up to the group because the camera’s bright light blinded her.
Vicki Gardner, a chamber of commerce official, was answering questions about the community on live TV when the gunfire erupted. She was wounded as she fell to the ground after hearing the first gunshots, her husband said Friday.
The gunman, Vester Flanagan, ambushed WDBJ-TV cameraman Adam Ward and reporter Alison Parker during the interview Wednesday at the Smith Mountain Lake Visitor Center. Gardner is executive director of the resort area’s chamber of commerce.
The first four shots were aimed at Parker, and two more were aimed at Ward, Gardner’s husband Tim said in a telephone interview from the hospital where she is recovering. Then he fired at Gardner, though his first couple of shots missed her.
“And then when she dove down and got shot, he stopped shooting and took off,” he said. “But she wasn’t sure he was gone so she just laid there playing possum until first responders showed up.”
Flanagan fired 17 shots from a Glock pistol, the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement Friday. The writings and evidence seized from Flanagan’s apartment showed the man “closely identified” with people who have committed mass murders, including the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Parker and Ward died of gunshot wounds to the head and body. Vicki Gardner was shot in the back.
Flanagan shot himself to death after a police chase. Flanagan, a former reporter at WDBJ, was fired from the station in 2013 for poor performance and conflicts with co-workers, who said he was always claiming to be the victim.
Parker’s boyfriend, WDBJ anchor Chris Hurst, said Parker went on an assignment with Flanagan when she was an intern and innocently remarked that her friend lived on “Cotton Hill Road.” Flanagan accused her of making a racist remark, something he apparently did often.
“She did not really know what he was upset about, specifically. She just knew that she felt uncomfortable being around him, as did many, many other people at the station,” Hurst said.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe met privately with station employees to share his condolences. The 50 or so workers have been described as a close-knit group, and they have continued reporting on their slain colleagues in the face of the tragedy.
“The courage and determination they showed is truly, truly extraordinary,” McAuliffe said outside the station.
The governor talked about his support for universal background checks and said he and Alison Parker’s dad, Adam, would fight for tougher gun laws.
“There are too many guns in America and there are clearly too many guns in the wrong hands,” the governor said. But McAuliffe, himself a gun owner, also conceded that Flanagan had passed a background check.
Parker’s boyfriend, not yet ready to take a stance on gun laws because he is a journalist, instead remembered the couple’s whitewater kayaking trip just one week ago.
“We went past a special place on the river where she turned to me and she said, ‘Chris, this is where I want to get married. Wouldn’t this be wonderful?’ And so now we’re going to place her ashes there.”
Associated Press reporter Allen Breed in Roanoke contributed to this report.