Murder — Caught on Live TV
In what started out as a pleasant early morning drive up to scenic Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia to conduct an interview with the head of the Smith Mountain Lake Chamber of Commerce, at Bridgewater Plaza, as part of a story on tourism, never a thought was given to what was about to turn into a horrendous nightmare for WDBJ-TV’s rising-star news anchor, her cameraman, and the Chamber of Commerce’s spokesperson.
By now, practically everyone who follows headline news is well aware of what took place at 6:45 AM on that mournful day that left two innocent TV correspondents dead and the Chamber’s spokesperson seriously wounded by gunshots in her back. To make this story even more despicable, the alleged killer,Vester Lee Flanagan II, (also known by his-on-air name, Bryce Williams) apparently timed his assassinations so perfectly that the actual viewing of this slaughter and the victims’ screams would coincide with TV station’s live-camera action as it was being broadcast to an estimated 40,000 viewers throughout the TV station’s area of coverage. Authorities would later learn that the suspect, a former co-worker at the same TV station, also carried the on-air capturing of this bloodbath even a step further by making his own recording and posting a video of the actual shootings onto his Twitter and Facebook accounts; later Flanagan allegedly send a detailed faxed message to ABC News that outlined his version of events that led up to the killings. The suspect was later found dying in his vehicle as result of a self-inflicted gunshot.
How could such a heinous and unprovoked crime happen? Many of the anti-gun activists were quick to place blame on guns and the need for stricter gun controls. Pro-gun supporters led their arguments by citing the 2nd. Amendment rights and a variety of pro-gun ownership points.
In posting this blog, let me make it clear, it is not my intent to join in and expound either way on those political issues voiced above. Let’s focus only on this particular act. The fact is that it is easy to blame the weapon for these killings. However, I see another possible explanation lurking in all the rhetoric about this specific deplorable act, and this brings an interesting question to mind, “What about the warning signs?” If the information that I have been privy to is accurate, perhaps there were obvious warning signs that this suspect was a great deal more troubled than that alleged quote saying that the suspect was “an unhappy man” and “difficult to work with”. From the information that I have been able to gather including an article in the Roanoke Times stating, “Flanagan was hired at [WDBJ-TV] in spring 2012 after working at stations in San Francisco, Florida, North Carolina, Texas and Georgia.” According to reports, Flanagan was terminated from WDBJ in February 2013, and at that time I estimate that he would have been around 38-40 years of age.
My very first thought: Six prior jobs at such a young age signals me that something is likely wrong. Therefore, a comprehensive background check should have been in order—and that special precautionary measures should have been taken to ensure that any/all work history was accounted-for and that no unexplained/unverifiable work-history and/or time-frame gaps appeared on the application.
Next, according to an alleged newspaper quote from the former news director of WTWC-TV in Tallahassee, “Managers at the Tallahassee station fired Flanagan because of his “bizarre behavior”. This former news director was also allegedly quoted as saying, “He threatened to punch people out and he was kind of running fairly roughshod over other people in the newsroom.” Another most critical question: Why wasn’t this serious matter identified during the reference check process with that previous employer?
Perhaps, what bothers me most is—if that Tallahassee news director’s alleged statements are truthful and accurate—I would think that these incidents combined with this applicant having a history of six short-stay jobs should have triggered a huge warning signal that a Do Not Hire decision was likely the best alternative for the Human Resources Department of WDBJ-TV to make.
Again, even if we remove that Tallahassee situation from consideration, keep in mind that allegedly Flanagan held six previous station jobs prior to being hired by WDBJ in the spring of 2012. This “track-record” causes me to next ask the below questions:
- Does WDBJ have a written policy pertaining to checking references with former employers?
- Did WDBJ perform reference checks and confirm the accuracy of employment dates between what was listed on the application and/or resume with th information provided by each of those six employers?
- If yes, and working under the assumption that a reasonable work-history check was made, does the applicant’s H.R. records reflect written documentation of each station’s feedback?
- If yes, was this information sufficiently positive in helping to make an affirmative hiring decision?
- If no, why were those former employers not pursued and asked again for feedback?
- Specifically focusing on WTWC-TV in Tallahassee, did that station’s reference check feedback contain any degree of semblance to those comments allegedly quoted to the media by that former news director? (In my opinion, this information could have been critical in the hiring process—and perhaps even resulted in saving those two innocent lives and severely wounding another.)
- Of those six former station employers, how many provided feedback relating to Flanagan? In total how many? Then we should analyze the data by the following breakdown: Number giving positive feedback; number providing negative feedback; number providing absolutely no feedback; number refusing to provide any feedback be it positive or negative.
- Of those six former employers, did any cite specifically that they would either rehire or not rehire Flanagan?
- If WDBJ-TV did not conduct a reasonable previous employer reference check with each of those six former employers, why not?
- What are your thoughts? Let us all hear from you with your post.In my opinion, more and more laws are being enacted that makes former employers extremely fearful and unsure of what information they can legally provide to the prospective employer; I will not be surprised to later be told that some type of federal law may well be the source that squelched important information that any of those six employers failed to divulge that could have gone a long ways in preventing this horrendous crime.
- Let me make it clear that I am not a psychologist, nor am I qualified to judge the mental state of any individual. However, as a former law enforcement investigator and an internationally recognized authority on business crime, I have seen more than my share of carnage, learned much from research and written numerous articles on the prevention of workplace violence.
- In closing, I am positive that each of you, like us, send along our deepest sympathy to the families of Alison Parker and Adam Ward, and wish Vicki Gardner a speedy recovery!