Rod St. Aubyn: Lessons Learned From WDBJ Shooting


After tragic incidents like the killing last week of a reporter and her cameraman in Virginia, it is typical for the public to review the situation to see if anything could have been done to prevent such a tragedy.

As you may recall from last week, Vester Flanagan, known professionally as Bryce Williams, shot and killed Alison Parker, her cameraman, Adam Ward, both from WDBJ television station, and seriously wounded Vicki Gardner, the local chamber of commerce person being interviewed. Vester, who was a disgruntled former reporter for WDBJ, later died from a self-inflicted gunshot. In his car were several items of interest including 17 stamped letters, a to do list, a wig, sunglasses and a shawl, and 3 extra license plates. Evidence showed that this was a premeditated crime and he had plans to escape. He faxed “his story” to ABC news and had posted his own video recording of the shootings.

He stated that what sent him over the top was the previous Charleston church shooting. He stated that he had put a deposit on a gun on 6/19 following the 6/17 church shooting. He is reported to have stated “As for Dylann Roof (the Charleston shooter)? You (deleted)! You want a race war (deleted)? BRING IT THEN YOU WHITE (deleted)!!!

Before Vester was found, I heard a TV commentator talking about the faxed manifesto with some legal expert. The commentator asked if this was a “hate crime”. He stated that he did not think so. I found his response incredible, especially since Dylann Roof was charged with a federal hate crime. Personally I am not favor of hate crime classifications anyway, but I find the disparity in applying them glaring.

Vester has been described as being difficult to work with at WDBJ. At one point he was told by management that he would be fired if he didn’t seek medical help. He had filed a complaint to the Equal Opportunity Employment Committee about alleged racial comments made by WDBJ staff. None of the alleged comments were corroborated. The complaint was dismissed. He later filed a lawsuit about the staff, which was dismissed. He was eventually dismissed at the station. Staff members stated that they feared him. Upon dismissal, he was escorted out of the station by police, where he allegedly resisted. He told a manager that “firing him would lead to negative consequences for you personally and for the station.” He gave the manager a wooden cross, saying “you’ll need this.”

It was later discovered that he had filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against WTWC-TV in Florida where he was previously employed. The lawsuit was eventually settled out of court. He was fired shortly after from that station.

President Obama came out with his typical public statement against guns comparing the number of gun related incidents compared to deaths that happen through terrorism.

Andy Parker, Alison’s father, is now pushing gun control legislation. He stated, “I’m going to do something, whatever, to get gun legislation – to shame people, to shame legislators into doing something about closing loopholes and background checks and making sure crazy people don’t get guns.”

I don’t criticize Mr. Parker. He was reacting to this tragic situation and letting his emotions speak. Unfortunately it was reported that Vester legally passed the background check for purchasing a firearm.

It appears that Vester tried to blame his work behavioral problems by using the “race card.” You have to question how he was able to get another reporting job in Virginia after being terminated in Florida. Unfortunately in today’s litigious environment, many employers will not give job references and only supply dates of employment and the job titles held.

If the following issues are true…

  • employees at WDBJ feared their own safety because of Vester
  • police were needed to escort him out and he resisted
  • Vester had threatened the employees and the station
  • Vester had implied a threat when he gave the wooden cross to a manager saying that he would need it,

…then why wasn’t a restraining order placed on Vester? The existence of such an order certainly would have prevented him from purchasing the gun.

On top of that, employers’ reluctance to submit job evaluations for troubled employees also complicates matters and lets these troubled employees continue to exhibit their inappropriate behaviors.

And finally, close friends and family members must have known how disturbed Vester was. It is disappointing and unfortunate that people do not accept some responsibility by reporting these individuals to social service agencies, police, or other appropriate entities to get the necessary mental health services. If something is not reported, it is impossible for gun control regulations to work.

But one fact is clear. It was not lax gun control regulations or even the gun that was at fault here. Vester committed this horrible incident and was ultimately responsible. Perhaps there are lessons to be learned here if we just look at the facts.