Who stole Vester Lee Flanagan II’s soul? Was it him? Or was it the society that he seemed utterly convinced was out to get him? Did he lose his soul while trying unsuccessfully to advance himself up the corporate ladder of journalism? Or did he simply sign it away on the line that is dotted? These are not rhetorical questions – they are actual questions. Investigations are underway, but no matter what those investigations uncover about the very troubled man who took his own life early Wednesday morning, nothing can undo the tragedy in Roanoke, Virginia he willfully and deliberately caused before his death. The lives of two innocent people were taken by Flanagan directly because he lost his own soul somewhere along the way.
As a fellow journalist, I am especially angered and saddened by the deaths of two WDMJ multimedia journalists: reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward. Parker was 24. Ward was 27. Both Parker and Ward were young and successful and well-regarded by their colleagues. Both of them had their entire lives ahead of them. Both reportedly were in love and soon to be married – Parker to WDMJ reporter Chris Hurst, and Ward to WDMJ producer, Melissa Ott.
Let there be no mistake: Parker and Ward were murdered. Worse than that, they were killed on-air while interviewing Vicki Gardner, a chamber of commerce executive in Moneta, Virginia. Parker and Ward weren’t in a war zone in a war-torn country embedded in a battalion of soldiers. They weren’t in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were simply doing the most American of activities – they were at work performing their duties to the best of their abilities. And everything was right in their worlds… until multiple shots changed everything forever. All was well until these two professionals were gunned down in cold blood by Flanagan. Parker and Ward died on the scene. They died where they fell because a terrorist ambushed them. And if all of those things weren’t terrible enough, Parker and Ward were slain by a former colleague. Years ago, Flanagan was himself a reporter at WDMJ. He claimed he targeted two straight, white people in response to institutionalized racism – but those indefensible actions will almost certainly create more racism and perhaps even violence against other gay Americans. What was Flanagan thinking? Was he thinking at all? Who stole his soul?
Gardner’s husband, Tim, actually saw his wife shot on-air. She’s in stable condition now, thank God. But can you imagine – even for a second – what that must have been like for him?
I’m going to speak plainly so that there’s no misunderstanding. In my not-so-humble opinion, Vester Lee Flanagan II – known professionally as Bryce Williams throughout his journalistic career – was a terrorist. In their last precious seconds of life, Adam Ward and Alison Parker were terrified. Parker was heard screaming hysterically – and seen running away. Her last words before WDMJ cut the remote feed was: “Oh, my God!” That’s what terrorists set out to do. Their mission is to generate fear and/or hatred by way of chaos. Terrorism can be inflicted upon a nation, a system of faith, an ideology, or against a person or group or persons. After killing his intended targets, Flanagan took photos of himself at the scene and posted them to his Facebook page. This man – who is now being described by former colleagues and friends as everything from “very loving person” to “off-kilter” – decided to cover the brutal slaying he had wrought. I suppose he intended to garner the national/global spotlight in death he could not manage to achieve in life. Quickly realizing the massive manhunt which was already underway for him, he turned the gun on himself. That’s precisely what cowards do. Again I ask, who stole Flanagan’s soul?
More and more details about Flanagan’s personal life are being revealed. Flanagan as Bryce Williams worked in many stops. One of those stops was at WTWC in Tallahassee, Florida during the early 2000s. He was fired from WTWC because he threatened his colleagues there. He subsequently sued WTWC. There was an out of-court settlement. Flanagan also worked in Savannah, Georgia. Apparently, he felt he was discriminated because he was a black man who was also gay. He accused WDMJ of discriminating against him for those same reasons, too.
So who stole our collective soul? Was it the NRA? After all, their unofficial motto is: “The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” The last time I checked, TV reporters can’t have guns out in the field – on-air or off. The NRA’s silence on this tragedy is deafening.
I won’t waste my time or my breath mentioning background checks for Americans wanting to buy guns. We could literally stack the bodies of American gunshot victims living and dead until we blot out the sun, and no one would care. Nothing will change.
I won’t disrespect the victims from Moneta, Virginia’s Wednesday mass shooting or the victims from Charleston, South Carolina’s June mass shooting by addressing Flanagan’s “manifesto.”
That man had mental health issues. He should not have been able to own a gun. To me, Flanagan is no different than Dylann Storm Roof. Both were racists, terrorists, and mass murderers.
Young people are dead and the lives of their families have been destroyed. However, no background checks for gun ownership legislation is forthcoming. You can expect a few politicians saying the usual, pseudo-sincere adjectives while displaying their well-rehearsed sad faces. Many people will shake their heads, others will shrug, and some will point fingers of blame. But by this time next week, everyone will have moved on.
Perhaps the question isn’t who stole Flanagan’s soul? Maybe it should be who stole our souls? Were they taken while we as a society were busy making guns our new graven images/idols? Or did we individually sign our souls away on the line that is dotted?
These are not rhetorical questions – they are actual questions. I really want to know. Dammit, I need to know.