ROANOKE (Virginia) • On any other day, Ms Nadine Maeser would have been out and about, doing her job, covering the darker side of southern Virginia for WDBJ-TV.
But Wednesday was like no other for the crime reporter - indeed, for the entire local TV station - after the shocking and brutal murder at gunpoint of two beloved colleagues during a live telecast.
"I've been out of the mix today," confessed Ms Maeser outside WDBJ-TV's studios in Roanoke, press credentials dangling from her neck, dark sunglasses concealing the tears welling up in her eyes.
Ms Maeser told Agence France-Presse she was just rolling out of bed at the crack of dawn when she received a telephone call from her news director, telling her to rush to work immediately. She did not yet know that, just minutes earlier, reporter Alison Parker, 24, and cameraman Adam Ward, 27, had been shot and killed on air allegedly by a disgruntled former WDBJ reporter.
The suspected gunman, Vester Flanagan, 41, also known as Bryce Williams, shot himself fatally when police caught up with his getaway car - but not before posting his own video of the killing.
"A lot of us didn't know what had happened" when they were called in, Ms Maeser said between hugs and condolences from friends and colleagues. "And when we came in, we were waiting for the confirmation (that Ms Parker and Mr Ward had died) - and then we got it," she said. "We've been trying to stick together since then."
Outside the studio gates, dozens of WDBJ-TV viewers solemnly converged before sunset to place bouquets of flowers and shiny remembrance balloons under a tree wrapped with two black mourning ribbons. Local clergy led prayers, and a barbecue trailer set up shop, with proceeds from its hotdog and hamburger sales earmarked for the two victims' families.
Ms Parker and Mr Ward were the youthful, energetic and ambitious early morning reporting duo at WDBJ-TV, a CBS affiliate that covers mainly rural southern Virginia with an editorial staff of about 50.
"They were both full of life, energetic people," Ms Maeser said.
Ms Parker was dating WDBJ-TV's evening anchor Chris Hurst, while Mr Ward was engaged to morning show producer Melissa Ott, who was working her last day before taking up a new job at a bigger TV station in Charlotte, North Carolina, with Mr Ward to follow her later. She was in the control room and witnessed her fiance's death in shock. As a fellow New Jersey native and close friend, it fell on Ms Maeser to console her throughout the day.
"Having to witness anyone being murdered, it's not easy," Ms Maeser said. "But your loved one? Someone you intended to spend the rest of your life with? I was going to be a bridesmaid (at their wedding)... next summer in Charleston, South Carolina," she added, choking back tears.
AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE