As an occupational safety and environmental health professional, I have been following the news of the shooting deaths of Virginia reporter Alison Parker and photographer Adam Ward by Vester Lee Flanagan closely.
Is there anyway that this tragedy could have been prevented, and are there lessons to be learned for other employers who can then better protect their staffs from senseless violence? As Flanagan was a former employee of Parker and Ward’s station, it seems appropriate to consider the possibility.
By definition, workplace violence includes:
- Threatening behaviour – such as shaking fists, destroying property or throwing objects.
- Verbal or written threats – any expression of an intent to inflict harm.
- Harassment – any behaviour that demeans, embarrasses, humiliates, annoys, alarms or verbally abuses a person and that is known or would be expected to be unwelcome. This includes words, gestures, intimidation, bullying, or other inappropriate activities.
- Verbal abuse – swearing, insults or condescending language.
- Physical attacks – hitting, shoving, pushing or kicking.
Reports now indicate Flangan’s employment history included many of these incidents. He was self-described “powder keg,” fired from his job at WDBJ in Virgina because of “anger management issues.”A 23-page note was sent to ABC news that indicates Flanagan was inspired by the Charleston shootings:
This morning, a fax was in the machine (time stamped 8:26 a.m.) almost two hours after the shooting. A little after 10 a.m., he called again, and introduced himself as Bryce, but also said his legal name was Vester Lee Flanagan, and that he shot two people this morning. While on the phone, he said authorities are “after me,” and “all over the place.” He hung up. ABC News contacted the authorities immediately and provided them with the fax.
In the 23-page document faxed to ABC News, the writer says “MY NAME IS BRYCE WILLIAMS” and his legal name is Vester Lee Flanagan II. He writes what triggered today’s carnage was his reaction to the racism of the Charleston church shooting:
“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…”
“What sent me over the top was the church shooting. And my hollow point bullets have the victims’ initials on them.”
However, given the fact that Flanagan had been fired and escorted out by police (not a typical occurence for any firing), the question has to be asked is there anything the news station could have done to anticipate his attack?
For example, could monitoring of Flanagan’s social media account by the station’s Human Resource staff provided any warning? Should Parker, Ward, and other station employees have been informed of Flanagan’s history, so they could have been on the lookout for him and know what to do if he showed up during filming? Could past employers have been able to warn the Virginia station of any problems with Flanagan if rules preventing such information dissemination had not been in place?
As with many of the other senseless slaughters covered on Legal Insurrection (e.g., Charleston, Santa Barbara, Aurora, Sandy Hook), the failure to address metal illness effectively was a key component. Gun control is not the issues as much as “mental illness control”.
And while journalists such as Parker and Ward can potentially experience violence while covering a story, a feature piece on local anniversary is typically a high risk event. The UK Daily Mail offers some background on the two victims:
According to her bio at WDBJ7.com, Parker was the station’s morning reporter. A local girl, Parker had spent much of her life outside Martinsville, about an hour from where she was tragically gunned down Wednesday.
Prior to her time at WDBJ, Parker worked near the Marine base Camp Lejeune for the Jacksonville, North Carolina bureau of WCTI.
She graduated from James Madison University just three years ago. While there, she interned at the local ABC/Fox affiliate and was news editor for her university’s nationally recognized newspaper, The Breeze.
According to her station biography, she says she liked to whitewater kayak, play with her parents’ dog Jack and attend community theater events.
‘She was so enthusiastic and she was doing what she loved,’ Deon Guillory, a reporter who had Parker as an intern in college, told CNN. ‘She was living her dream.’
Photographer Ward was a Virginia Tech graduate who attended high school in Salem, less than an hour from the scene of his murder.
The two Virginia natives often worked together on WDBJ stories and started off at the station as interns.
In April, they traveled together to Appomattox for the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War. In February, the station posted photos of the duo to Facebook as they dressed up as bride and groom at a local bridal store.
‘Adam was a delightful person. He worked hard – you could tell he loved what he was doing,’ Robert Denton, who taught Ward at Virginia Tech University, said.
I hope some serious lessons are learned in the wake of this tragedy, instead of the usual cries for more gun control.