Two reporters were shot dead today during a live broadcast for WDBJ7, a local news station based in Roanoke, VA early Wednesday morning. Their deaths mark the first time that journalists have been killed while on the job in the United States since 2007.
Vester Lee Flanigan II, who used the name Bryce Williams on TV, has been described as a “disgruntled” former employee of WDBJ7. He died due to a self-inflicted gunshot wound after being arrested by police while fleeing the crime scene.
Excluding the deaths of Alison Parker, a TV reporter, and cameraman Adam Ward, 39 journalists have been killed around the world so far this year according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The highest number of deaths were in France, where two gunmen killed eight journalists when they open-fired on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine. Five journalists were killed in both South Sudan and in Syria where conflict is ongoing.
Christophe Deloire of Reporters Without Borders called the murders an “unprecedented tragedy, even in a country where thousands of people are killed each year by firearms.”
“According to initial reports, it seems that these reporters were personally targeted in an act of revenge and not because of their jobs,” he said. “The ensuing investigation will reveal if their work as journalists was indeed a factor in this criminal act.”
While several American journalists have been killed in recent years, their deaths have largely been concentrated in conflict zones like Syria where freelance journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff were beheaded last year by the militant group ISIS.
The last American to have been killed in the U.S. was Chauncy Baily of the Oakland Post. He was killed by a masked gunman who was sentenced to 25 years in prison after testifying against his fellow conspirators.
While he said that the motives for the killings of Parker and Ward remain unclear, Carlos Lauria of the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement, “[W]e do know that being a journalist is potentially dangerous anywhere in the world.”
“We condemn this fatal shooting and send our condolences to the journalists’ families and colleagues,” Lauria added.