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‘Disgruntled employee’ may be to blame for murder of reporter, cameraman

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A manhunt is underway for a gunman who killed a local news reporter and photographer on live television Wednesday during a routine interview outside Moneta, Virginia.

Authorities say they are looking for former WDBJ employee Vester L. Flanagan, who is driving a 2009 gray Ford Mustang, according to a Augusta County, Virginia, sheriff’s department representative. Police are looking for Flanagan in connection with Wednesday’s killing of two WDBJ journalists, but stopped short of calling him a suspect, the representative said.

Vester L. Flanagan — the man authorities say they’re seeking in connection with Wednesday’s fatal shooting of two journalists — worked at WDBJ as a reporter for about a year using the on-air name Bryce Williams, according to a former WDBJ employee. Flanagan was fired from the station, though the reason was not made public, the ex-employee said. It is believed that Flanagan is still in the Virginia area, a law enforcement source briefed on the search said.

Alison Parker was interviewing a woman at about 6:45 a.m. when shots rang out. Both women screamed.

As the camera fell to the ground, the audience caught the briefest glimpse of a man who appeared to point a gun toward the downed cameraman.

The station cut away to a shocked anchor, Kimberly McBroom, back in the studio.

Parker, 24, and photographer Adam Ward, 27, were killed at Bridgewater Plaza near Moneta, the station, WDBJ-TV, reported later.

Ward’s fiancĂ©e was in the control room and saw the shooting, WDBJ General Manager Jeff Marks told CNN.

The woman being interviewed, Vicki Gardner, executive director of the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce, was shot in the back and is in surgery, said Barb Nocera, the chamber’s special projects manager said.

The gunman is believed to have fired six or seven times, Marks said.

He remains on the loose. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has joined in the manhunt, while the ATF and FBI are participating in the investigation. Area schools are on lockdown.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe told WTOP radio in Washington that the suspected gunman may be a disgruntled employee of the TV station.

Authorities know the identity of the man believed to be the shooter, a law enforcement official told CNN.

“We do not know the motive,” Marks said. “We do know the Franklin County sheriff … they are working very diligently to track down both the motive and the person responsible for this terrible crime against two fine journalists,” he said during the station’s coverage of the shooting.

“Our hearts are broken,” Marks also said. “We have people walking around here in tears, lots of hugs.”

McBroom described Parker as a “rock star” and said, “You throw anything at that girl and she could do it.”

Another journalist at the anchor’s desk said Ward was engaged to be married to morning show producer at WDBJ, Melissa Ott, and Ward recently told her, “I’m going to get out of news. I think I’m going to do something else.”

Ward joined WDBJ in 2011 after graduating from Virginia Tech with a degree in communication and media studies, according to his Facebook page. He enrolled at the university in 2007, the same year a gunman went on a deadly rampage, leaving 32 people dead.

In April, days before the eighth anniversary of the campus massacre, Ward changed his Facebook profile photo to an image of the Virginia Tech logo with a back ribbon.

Parker was the morning reporter for the Roanoke station and a native of Virginia, having spent most of her life outside Martinsville. She started with WDBJ as an intern, her biography on the station’s website says.

She previously worked with another CNN affiliate, WCTI-TV, in Jacksonville, North Carolina, near Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune.

She was a graduate of James Madison University’s School of Media Arts and Design in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Chris Hurst, a reporter for the station, tweeted that he and Parker “were very much in love” and had just moved in together after dating nine months, “the best nine months of our lives. We wanted to get married. We just celebrated her 24th birthday.”

He continued, “She was the most radiant woman I ever met. And for some reason she loved me back. She loved her family, her parents and her brother.”

Hurst described himself as “numb.”

Parker and Ward worked together every day, Hurst tweeted. “They were a team. I am heartbroken for his fiancee,” he wrote.

“You know, you send people into war zones, you send people into dangerous situations and into riots, and you worry that they are going to get hurt. You send somebody out to do a story on tourism and — how can you expect something like this to happen?” Marks told CNN.

A local pastor, “a friend of the newsroom,” is at the station, consoling Parker’s and Ward’s co-workers, he said.

CNN’s Jason Hanna, Lee Smith, Ashley Fantz, Carol Costello, Brian Stelter and Mariano Castillo contributed to this report.