Suspect had grievances over workplace racism

Vester Flanagan filed a racial bias suit in 2000.
Vester Flanagan filed a racial bias suit in 2000.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • The suspected gunman in the shooting deaths of two television journalists in Virginia was a veteran anchorman with a history of workplace grievances - he had sued a Florida station, alleging discrimination as he was black.

The authorities said they had not determined a motive, but perceived racism seemed to be a factor, based on recent social media postings supposedly made by the suspect and a fax that ABC News said he sent.

Vester Flanagan, 41, known on air as Bryce Williams, was a former employee of WDBJ7, where the slain journalists worked.

Posts on a Twitter feed by a man who identified himself as Bryce Williams 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 that 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, in June.

ABC News said Flanagan claimed he had been attacked by black men and white women, and for being a gay black man.

"The church shooting was the tipping point... but my anger has been building steadily," ABC News cited the fax as saying.

"I've been a human powder keg for a while... just waiting to go BOOM!"

Flanagan aired similar grievances in a 2000 lawsuit filed with a United States federal court against WTWC-TV, a station in Tallahassee, Florida.

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 following year, court records show.

One of Flanagan's former Florida colleagues remembered him as"quirky", but said he never displayed behaviour that would have suggested he could be capable of such a violent crime.

Flanagan's 20-year career in journalism included stints at local news stations in San Francisco, Savannah in Georgia and Midland in Texas, according to his LinkedIn profile. It said he also worked briefly outside 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 in California, but most recently lived in Roanoke in 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," Mr Marks said, adding that Flanagan had to be escorted out of the building by the police after he was terminated by the station in 2013. "He did not take that well."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 28, 2015, with the headline 'Suspect had grievances over workplace racism'. Print Edition | Subscribe