Virginia TV gunman plotted to hurt more people: Governor

Vester Lee Flanagan is shown in this handout photo from TV station WDBJ7.
Vester Lee Flanagan is shown in this handout photo from TV station WDBJ7. PHOTO: REUTERS

ROANOKE, United States (AFP) - The embittered gunman who shot dead two young American journalists on live TV was seemingly hell-bent on committing more violence before he took his own life, Virginia's governor said .

Terry McAuliffe visited the studios of WDBJ television in Roanoke two days after Vester Flanagan - who also went by the name Bryce Williams - killed reporter Alison Parker, 24, and cameraman Adam Ward, 27, as they were conducting an interview.

Flanagan, 41, a former WDBJ reporter fired in February 2013, fatally shot himself a few hours later after police caught up with his rented getaway car on a highway that leads into the city of Washington.

"We've learned today that this individual had a lot more ammunition and more intent to hurt a lot more people, we believe," McAuliffe told reporters outside the studios afterward.

"We clearly can't get into his mind and find out what he was planning to do, but obviously there were some bad intentions."

Flanagan used a Glock handgun - bought legally at a Virginia gun shop, federal firearms authorities say - to kill Parker and Ward and wound their interview subject, a local chamber of commerce official.

Inside his car, which he crashed during the pursuit, police found two Glocks, six magazines, a to-do list and 17 stamped letters, according to a Virginia State Police search warrant released late Thursday.

Also found were a briefcase with contents that included three licence tags, a wig and a shawl. The contents of the to-do list have not been disclosed.

- 'IDENTIFIED WITH 9/11' -

The sheriff's office in Franklin County, where the murders took place at a lakeside resort outside Roanoke, said it appeared that Flanagan acted alone and told nobody about his murderous plans.

From evidence gathered so far, it said in a statement that Flanagan "closely identified with individuals who have committed domestic acts of violence and mass murder as well as the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States."

Flanagan also "left no indication as to his eventual destination or his next/final actions," the sheriff's office said.

The double killing renewed debate about gun control in the United States, where citizens' right to "keep and bear arms" is enshrined in the Constitution.

McAuliffe, a Democrat and gun owning hunter, said he favours extending "common sense" background checks for firearms purchases.

Such federally mandated checks now apply only to purchases at licenced gun shops. They do not include gun shows, private sales and online transactions.

"If you go to a gun show, there are big signs in certain booths that say, 'Come buy your gun here - we don't do background checks here'," said McAuliffe. "Why would you need a sign like that?"

He acknowledged that Flanagan had passed his background check without a problem, "so the point is that you won't stop all violence."

President Barack Obama pushed for broader firearm background checks in the wake of the December 2012 massacre of 20 children at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.

But the initiative - fiercely opposed by the influential National Rifle Association - died in the Senate after failing to muster sufficient votes.

- CALL FROM CLINTON -

In Minnesota, Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton called for tougher gun laws, saying the Virginia bloodshed revealed that "something is deeply wrong" in America.

"No one is standing up and saying what we all know to be true: We need to put an end to the gun violence that plagues our communities," she said, to loud applause at a Democratic party gathering.

On average, about 32,000 people die in firearm-related incidents every year in the United States, which has more firearms in private hands per capita that any other nation.

The majority of those deaths are suicides, with homicides and accidents accounting for the remaining fatalities.