The suspected gunman in the shooting deaths of two television journalists in Virginia on Wednesday was a veteran anchorman with a history of workplace grievances who had previously sued a Florida station alleging discrimination because he was black.
While authorities said they had not determined a motive, perceived racism appeared to be a factor in the shootings, according to recent postings the suspect is believed to have made on social media and a fax that ABC News said the suspect sent.
Vester Flanagan, 41, who went on the air under the name Bryce Williams, was a former employee of WDBJ7 in Virginia, where both of the slain journalists worked. The journalists, who were both white, were killed during a live television broadcast earlier this morning.
Posts on a Twitter feed by a man identifying himself as Bryce Williams, Flanagan’s on-air name, accused one of the victims of “racist comments,” and noted that a complaint had been filed with a government agency that enforces discrimination claims.
In a 23-page fax ABC News said was sent two hours after the shooting, he cited as his tipping point the racially motivated shooting that killed nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, earlier this summer.
Saying he had suffered racial discrimination, sexual harassment and bullying at work, Flanagan described himself as “a human powder keg,” the network said.
Flanagan aired similar grievances in a 2000 lawsuit filed in U.S. federal court against a Florida station, WTWC-TV in Tallahassee. In that suit, he said a producer had called him a “monkey,” and he accused a supervisor of calling black people lazy for not taking advantage of college scholarship opportunities.
The Florida case was settled and dismissed the next year, court records show.
One of his former Florida colleagues remembered Flanagan as “quirky,” but said he never displayed behaviour suggesting he would be capable of such a violent crime.
“He had his idiosyncrasies, a little quirky sometimes,” said Michael Walker, the weekend producer at the Tallahassee station when Flanagan was working as a weekend anchor. “It probably wasn’t any different than any other on-air personality.”
Walker, who is also black, noted that he had not experienced discrimination at the station.
Flanagan, who accused the station of terminating his contract because he had filed a report of racism with a state agency, said in the lawsuit he suffered emotional distress and financial losses as a result of his treatment at the station.
The NBC affiliate, which stopped broadcasting newscasts in late 2000, said at the time of the lawsuit that his contract was not renewed due to “corporate belt-tightening,” according to an article in the Tallahassee Democrat at that time.
Representatives from the station could not immediately be reached for comment.
Flanagan’s 20-year career in journalism included stints at local news stations in San Francisco; Savannah, Georgia; and Midland, Texas, according to his LinkedIn profile. It said he also worked briefly outside of journalism as a customer service representative.
He graduated from San Francisco State University in 1995 with a degree in radio and television, the school confirmed.
According to a Facebook page believed to belong to the suspect, he was originally from Oakland, California, but most recently living in Roanoke, Virginia, where WDBJ7 broadcasts.
There, he gained a reputation as someone who was difficult to work with because of his anger, station manager Jeff Marks said during a live broadcast.
“Vester was an unhappy man,” Marks said, adding that he had to be escorted out of the building by police after he was terminated from the station in 2013.
“He did not take that well,” he added.
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