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Virginia TV station killings leave colleagues struggling to cope

Former WDBJ journalist Vester Lee Flanagan II, who

Former WDBJ journalist Vester Lee Flanagan II, who also goes by the name Bryce Williams, was identified as the shooter who shot and killed two journalists live on the air on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015, police said. Credit: Twitter, WSBJ7

ROANOKE, Va. -- Hours after shooting a reporter and cameraman on live TV, Vester L. Flanagan II took his own life when a Virginia state trooper closed in. But what authorities found in his car hints he considered remaining on the run: a briefcase with three license plates, a wig, a shawl, an umbrella and sunglasses.

The details were contained in a request for a search warrant filed in a Virginia court Thursday, a day after the slayings of WDBJ-TV reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward. Flanagan, a disgruntled former co-worker, also had a Glock pistol, ammunition, 17 stamped letters and a "to do" list in his rental car.

As authorities continued to investigate the shooting, family, colleagues and residents tried to cope with the brazen incident that hit the small Southwest Virginia city -- and figure out whether anything could have been done to stop it.

Parker's distraught father spoke on national TV, calling for tougher gun control laws. Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe also called for greater gun control, sparking criticism from Republicans who said he was politicizing the tragedy.

Officials at the station held a news conference, saying that while Flanagan had reacted angrily when he was fired in 2013 for erratic behavior and bad performance, workers who encountered him around town in the past 2 1/2 years had no run-ins.

And inside the station, the close-knit news team kept reporting the story, juggling personal tragedy and professional duty.

Parker, 24, was interviewing a local chamber of commerce leader, Vicki Gardner, about the most benign of events -- the 50th anniversary of the Smith Mountain Lake tourist community -- when the shots rang out early Wednesday. Parker and Ward, 27, died at the scene. Gardner was shot multiple times and was recovering, her husband said.

The case grew even more horrifying when, after Flanagan fled, he added a video he'd recorded of the shooting to his Twitter and Facebook accounts, along with Twitter postings claiming he had been wronged by those at the station.

Flanagan, 41, who had a troubled career at several news outlets, also stopped to send a 22-page letter to ABC News saying he had suffered years of discrimination and the June shootings at a Charleston church sent him "over the top." He texted a friend after the killings, according to the search warrant affidavit, saying he had done "something stupid." The chase ended some 200 miles from the shooting scene when he shot himself in the head, police said in the document.

Yesterday, WDBJ's morning show went on the air just as it always had at 5 a.m. Evening anchor Chris Hurst was in front of the cameras, remembering Parker, his girlfriend. He said the reporter was planning to do a piece on hospice care shortly before her death. They both discussed how horrible it was to lose a loved one.

"What great things she could have done," Hurst told the viewers.

Over the previous 24 hours, the colleagues sang "Amazing Grace." They cried, but they still put out the news. They said they had no other choice.

"I know how Parker felt about her journalism," Hurst said in an interview. "She wanted to get the truth out there, and that's what we are doing."

On air, there was a memorial to Ward, a montage of Parker and, as 6:45 a.m. approached, the moment Flanagan had opened fire, three anchors held hands for a moment of silence. Anchor Kimberly McBroom told the audience: "This hurts so much." Shortly before, a weatherman choked back tears as he ran through the forecast. "You got this, partner," McBroom told him.

During the afternoon news conference, the staff stood behind station officials as they spoke about the victims, and the shooter. News director Kelly Zuber said that small moments of memory were the hardest for the colleagues -- finding a candy wrapper left behind by Ward, or noticing the clothes he left in his car.

"I have watched anchors and reporters half an hour before a newscast be crying in the newsroom, and then get on that set and deliver the news to the people of southern and southwestern Virginia," Zuber said. "They cry, they hug, and then they get the job done."

Across the state and beyond, the shootings prompted a renewed debate on gun control. The ATF said Flanagan legally purchased the Glock 9-mm pistol used in the shootings from a federally licensed dealer in Virginia. They said a background check was conducted, and there was nothing in Flanagan's criminal or mental-health history that should have prohibited the sale.

Parker's father, Andy, appeared on several news outlets, including CNN, FOX, and ABC, at one point saying he would become a "crusader" for gun control. "If anything can come of this, it's taking up the mantle to once again try to do something to close loopholes so that crazy people don't get guns," Parker told ABC News.

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