Alison Parker and Adam Ward: 'Rockstar' Reporter and Gregarious Cameraman
Alison Parker, morning reporter
Alison Parker was a rising star at the Virginia station where she first began her career as an intern. The WDBJ newsroom was the center of her professional world and also where she fell in love.
Parker had been quietly dating Chris Hurst, an anchor at the station, for nearly nine months. They had just moved in together and were planning to marry, Hurst said on Twitter.
“She was the most radiant woman I ever met,” Hurst wrote. “And for some reason she loved me back.”
Hurst said the pair had not been public about their relationship, but were “very much in love”. He said her death has left him “numb”.
We didn't share this publicly, but @AParkerWDBJ7 and I were very much in love. We just moved in together. I am numb. http://t.co/tUrHVwAXcN— Delegate Chris Hurst (@Delegate Chris Hurst)1440595878.0
“It was the best nine months of our lives,” he wrote. “We wanted to get married. We just celebrated her 24th birthday.”
Parker spent her birthday with family and friends on the Nantahala river in North Carolina, according to her Facebook profile.
“I’ve been MIA for the last few days,” Parker wrote on Facebook. “I was on the Nantahala River in North Carolina with friends and family for some birthday fun and time off. I’ll be back on Mornin’ Tuesday-Friday and then on the anchor desk this Saturday!”
Her colleagues described her as a “rockstar” with a sharp news sense who impressed everyone at the station with her zeal and passion.
“She was a rockstar here at WDBJ,” said Kimberly McBroom, an anchor at the station. “She really has done a wonderful job reporting and filling in anchoring. You throw anything at that girl and she could do it.”
Parker was a 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 while a student at James Madison University, her biography on the station’s website says.
“It was that internship that took the skills I learned at JMU and allowed me to apply them. That internship made me fall in love with the business, and I knew broadcast journalism was exactly what I wanted to pursue,” she told the Roanoke Times in May 2014.
She added: “I grew up watching WDBJ7. So it’s wonderful be back [sic] in Virginia and to be a part of the news team here.”
After graduating from university she went on to work as a producer at WCTI-TV, in Jacksonville, North Carolina, according to LinkedIn. She was also a contributing writer for Port and Main magazine.
Adam Ward, photographer
Adam Ward had an infectious smile that lit up the newsroom, even in the earliest hours of the workday. He had a lot to smile about, said his colleagues at WDBJ7, a CBS affiliate serving southern Virginia: he was engaged to Melissa Ott, a morning producer at the station, and was preparing to follow her to Charlotte, where she recently got a new job.
“There were a lot of good things happening for Adam,” said Kimberly McBroom, an anchor at the station.
Ward, who had just turned 27, was described by his colleagues as a gregarious, hardworking photojournalist, and an avid fan of his alma mater, Virginia Tech.
“We get here really early in the morning and when we get in, they just make this newsroom come alive,” said the station’s morning meteorologist, Leo Hirshburner.
Hirshburner added that Ward would wake up the groggy news crew with his excited banter about Virginia Tech football or anything else that happened to catch his attention that morning.
Ward graduated from local Salem high school in Virginia and graduated from Virginia Tech in 2011. Soon after, he started working in the production department at WDBJ. He then worked as a camera operator in the studio and later a cameraman in the field.
“He proved himself to be just a fine photojournalist, and the kind of guy who [when he] was on his way home from work and heard about something breaking, he would just turn around and go do it,” said Jeffrey Marks, the station’s general manager.
Ward was considering his impending move to Charlotte as a possible opportunity to switch careers, McBroom said. She said Ward had told her: “I think I’m going to get out of news. I think I’m going to do something else.”
Wednesday morning was Ott’s last day at the station, McBroom said. Allison Parker brought her balloons, and McBroom brought a cake.
Ward would then join Parker for a shoot at a waterpark on Smith Mountain Lake while Ott returned to the production galley for her last morning shift.
Ward and Parker were killed when a shooter approached the television crew during a live interview on Wednesday morning. Shots rang out as Parker interviewed another woman. In the footage, the woman screams. As the camera crashes to the ground, the audience glimpses the shooter. The station cuts back to the studio.
Vicki Gardner ‘recovering and in stable condition’
The only survivor of the triple shooting was listed in stable condition at a hospital following the incident, according to local news reports.
The victim, Vicki Gardner, 61, is an economic development executive in Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia, where the shooting occurred. She was being interviewed by the news crew when the gunman opened fire.
“She is currently recovering and is in stable condition,” Chris Turnbull, a spokesman for Carilion Roanoke Memorial hospital, was quoted as saying. Gardner underwent emergency surgery for unspecified wounds, the hospital told reporters.
Travelling from Florida to Virginia, Gardner’s daughter, Erin Arnold, said she learned of the shooting from her father. “He’s stoic. He never gets hysterical. But to me it all still feels surreal,” she said.
Arnold described her mother as “incredible”: “She’s 60 years old and still wakeboards. She still climbs up and paints the lighthouse.”
“I’m just grateful she’s alive,” Arnold said.
On the shooter, she added: “God rest his soul.”
A colleague on the regional chamber of commerce, Jessica Gauldin, told the Washington Post that the outlook for Gardner was good.
“She has suffered some internal damage, but she’s stabilized right now and it looks good,” Gauldin said.
Gardner was being interviewed by the news crew on the occasion of the upcoming 50th anniversary of the local reservoir. She had been head of the Smith Mountain Lake regional chamber of commerce for 13 years.
“Vicki is the face of Smith Mountain Lake,” Liz Hock, a former local editor, told a news outlet in the nearby city of Roanoke. “Gardner is always accessible to the media, and in answer to any question replies: ‘Life is wonderful at Smith Mountain Lake.’”
The lake, a popular recreational boating and leisure site, is a large reservoir created in 1963 by the damming of the Roanoke River.
According to a profile for Gardner on Facebook, she grew up in New York state and lives with her husband in a town about a mile from the lake.