Roanoke shooting fuels debate on workplace violence, gun control

ROANOKE, Va. (KTVU) -- The fatal shooting on live television of journalists Alison Parker and Adam Ward Wednesday has broken hearts around the nation and re-ignited debates over gun control and whether there are ways to prevent workplace violence.

Colleagues of the two victims held hands and faced the cameras at WDBJ in Roanoke, Virginia. They marked the moment, 24 hours after Parker and Ward were gunned down by a former WDBJ reporter Vester Flanagan.

"As we approach that moment, we want to pause and reflect," said morning anchor Kimberly McBooth, "Please join us now in a moment of silence."

Two young journalists were silenced in a calculated shooting, that many coworkers, family and close friends still struggle to comprehend.

"You have visions when you're trying to fall asleep of her being alive and everything is ok and you can touch her and you can feel her again. Then you realize that it's not true and it's just fleeting," said Chris Hurst, Alison Parker's boyfriend and an anchor at the news station.

Adam Ward's fiancee was the morning show producer Melissa Ott. Coworkers say she received her wedding dress the day he was killed.

"She is devastated. I haven't even gotten a chance to talk to her. Last night she was sleeping, she needed to," said Kimberly McBroom, a coworker.

Police have revealed that they found a wig, a shawl, six clips of ammunition, a Glock handgun, 17 stamped letters and three license plate inside the gunman's car. Flanagan, 41, shot himself before police could reach him.

The shooting has sparked new concern over workplace violence, which claimed more than 500 lives in 2010 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

WDBJ managers said Thursday that Flanagan, who was known on air by the name of Bryce Willams, had worked at WDBJ for 11 months before he was fired in February 2013. The station's general manager Jeffrey Marks says Flanagan had a record of angry outbursts and conflicts during his employment. At one point he was told to seek mandatory counseling.

The day he was fired, managers say Flanagan handed the news director a wooden cross and told him, "You'll need this." Flanagan also reportedly yelled at photographer Adam Ward, who was recording video of Flanagan as police escorted Flanagan out the door.

"He was a troubled person. We thought any hint of trouble would have died down, 'cause it had been two years," said Marks.

Just last month on July 2nd, a judge dismissed a lawsuit Flanagan had filed claiming racial discrimination and wrongful termination.

UC Haas School of Business professor Jo-Ellen Pozner says one possible key to addressing workplace violence is to find ways to address employees' mental health and wellness.

"It seems clear that there was an emotional, mental health issue going on here and that's I think the key to figuring out how to deal with

these things in the workplace," Pozner said, "I think there's a public policy question there that we need to address in a larger level, that's less about workplace violence and more about the violence in our society today."

At a vigil for the victims Thursday night outside the WDBJ station, others echoed the concern for more awareness about mental health problems.

"We, as people, need to reach out to hurting people.  They're all around us.  And we go about our lives every day like they don't exist," one woman said.

Alison Parker's father, boyfriend, and others say there is also a need to consider more gun control.  

"If somebody's going to do a violent thing, they're going to do a violent thing. I just wish he didn't have a gun," Marks said.

Among those who attended Thursday night's vigil, was Mark Herring, Virginia's Attorney General who told the crowd, "The entire Commonwealth is thinking about you tonight." 

The only survivor of the shooting is Vicki Gardner, who was a chamber of commerce official being interviewed by Parker Wednesday. Her husband of 40 years, Tim Gardner, said his wife lost a kidney and part of her colon and was shot in the lower back as she tried to drop to the ground to avoid the gunfire.

A memorial service for Adam Ward is scheduled for Tuesday at First Baptist Church in Roanoke.