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tv   2020  ABC  August 28, 2015 10:00pm-11:01pm PDT

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that's our program for tonight. catch us again next week for another edition of "what would you do?" you can connect with us anytime. like us on facebook and follow us on twitter. and don't go away. "20/20" starts right now. they were just doing this news when they became the news. >> i said, that's bryce williams. that's him. >> reporter: tonight, we're taking you into the mind of a killer. bizarre details from the suicide note he sent out. saying he was a human powder keg, just waiting to go boom. and waiting for this. the early shift at wdbj tv,
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roanoke, virginia. two reporters, driving to work, leaving their loved ones. >> i said, have a great day, honey. she said, i will. good night, sweet boy. and that was the last i ever heard from her. >> reporter: vester flanagan. he had been hired and fired there. a loose cannon, plotting his revenge. desperate for just one more closeup. he got it. >> okay. not sure what happened there. >> my brain wasn't thinking gunshots. >> reporter: neither was the morning producer.
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>> reporter: tonight, we're t k taking you fthrough the man hun. going job by job to the breaking point. >> he gets all of this attention the last few hours he's alive. and that's what he was looking for. >> reporter: could he have been stopped before two innocent lives were taken? >> good evening. i'm debra roberts. david and elizabeth are on assignment tonight. for so many of us that started off in small tv stations, this tragedy hits close to home. 15 gunshots turning a workplace into a sort of war zone. but one bit of good news tonight, one of the victims, vicki gardner, is up and talking. her husband sharing details of the shooting that no one has
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heard before now. here's jim avila. >> reporter: vicki gardner awoke this morning to her brave, new world. a world she is lucky to be the lone survivor of a gunman's killing spree. >> when she came to in the recovery room, the doctor told me that the prognosis is that she's going to make a full recovery. minus a kidney and some other small parts. >> reporter: a tremendously positive prognosis after two surgeries on her back and kidney, since vicki believes the gunman was intent on killing her as well. yet she told her husband she never saw any of it coming. >> there was a bright light in her face. a camera with a light. >> reporter: the trio were focused on filming their interview, the killer set his sights on them. >> alison obviously was the initial target. >> reporter: he then shoots vicki in the back. standing over her, in what could
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have been her final moments. he came over to do a coup de gras. >> he missed twice and then she dove to the ground. and curled up in a ball. >> reporter: time, the only sound, not explosive gunfire, but the clicks of an apparently jammed gun. with both alison parker and adam ward dead at her feet. the gunman long gone. vicky gardner managed to rise on her feet. >> she's one of those individuals who says if i can get up i'm going to get up and she got up and walked to the ambulance. >> reporter: for alison parker and adam ward, the prayer vigils and makeshift memorials are out front of the wdbj newsroom, and inside, colleagues from sister stations in the midwest have flown in to help as the
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grief-stricken staff struggles with shock over the loss of two colleagues. >> we want to pause and reflect and we want to share with you once again what made these two so special, not just to us but to all of our hometowns that wdbj serves. >> reporter: august is typically quiet here in roanoke, virginia. full of the gentle sounds of river tubing, not the rapid-fire explosions of gun shots. >> this is your hometown news leader. >> we just saw someone going 69. >> reporter: 24-year-old reporter alison parker was there to cover everything from bacon fests and charity events to a recent series on child abuse. >> experts say neglect is a form of child abuse that is just as damaging as physical abuse. >> reporter: 27-year-old cameraman adam ward, a big personality known for his sense of fun, was also a big part of the news family, occasionally
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turning the camera on himself -- like the day he took part in a weather quiz. >> i'm going to go with "a." >> adam was correct. high level winds can rip a hurricane apart. >> he is so happy. you have no idea. >> reporter: a local boy and avid sports fan, adam ward grew up 12 miles away in the rural town of salem, affectionately known as "virginia's championship city," where he played football for the salem spartans. both adam and alison, full of the radiant energy of journalists just starting out, were paired off by their bosses who saw their potential as a dynamic duo. >> they worked together for over a year -- day-in, day-out. as we look through the pictures and the ones that we showed in our various newscasts, we see all the fun moments they had together. >> reporter: while growing up in the small town of martinsville, virginia, she found the thrill in working on her high school's robotics team and later even tutored others in calculus. >> she was just scratching the
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surface of her potential. i saw her the first time when i met her and she left my office and i said, alison had -- had that it factor. >> reporter: here on the campus of james madison university, alison made a big impression at the student newspaper, and even interned at wdbj -- the very station she grew up watching. >> don't let the smile fool you, she was a really hard-nosed reporter. tenacious is the word i keep coming back to. >> parents were concerned about the principal taking matters into their own hands. >> reporter: alison soon got her first job on-air -- at a newbern, north carolina, station even before getting her diploma. her family was thrilled. >> she would always call me and say, "you know what dad, what'd you think of my package today?" and she did that every single day. >> reporter: then last year alison came home, to wdbj, where her well-rounded charisma quickly made her a local fan favorite. >> when i was younger i wanted
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to either become a doctor or a pharmacist, but as a journalist i get to cover those types of fields so it's close enough. >> reporter: in this video produced by the station to introduce alison to viewers, she talked about a few of her favorite things. >> i absolutely love mexican food. the spicier, the better. >> yeah, i'm done. >> one more bite. >> why? >> reporter: and it was over some of that spicy mexican food that alison found her next great love. >> we had our first date. we went to have mexican food. she loved mexican food, and we didn't even eat any of it, because we were nervous and every day after that has been pure bliss. >> 30 secs. >> reporter: chris hurst is the main anchor on the station's evening newscast. >> we would go to station events and appearances together as reporter and anchor, not as boyfriend and girlfriend. but we couldn't even really hide it there either, because we just were so in love.
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>> reporter: soon they moved in together. >> they were so playful. she would take little, funny jabs at him and he would just take it. >> reporter: cameraman adam ward also had a serious relationship with colleague melissa ott, the morning show producer. >> they started dating after they went to a wedding of another co-worker and then obviously fell in love. >> reporter: then, last december adam dropped to his knee and popped the question. and like any good photojournalist he made sure the big moment was shared on facebook for the world to see. >> melissa was talking about her wedding. happy wedding chat, happy plans. >> reporter: and in what now feels like cruel irony, this couple was poised to start a new life together, in a new town. it just didn't come soon enough. >> it was her last newscast, she had taken a job in charlotte and
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adam was going to go with her. they were going to start their new lives together down there. it was supposed to be a happy day. >> reporter: but little do either of these young colleagues know that their fates will soon reconnect with a killer. a former co-worker they've all but forgotten. but he's never forgotten them. i can't find my discover card! wait, i can freeze my account. [touch tone] introducing freeze it, from discover. it allows you to prevent new purchases on your account in seconds if your card is misplaced. not here... ♪ and once you find your card, you can switch it right on again.'re back! [touch tone] freeze it, only from discover. get it at no other scents feel like glade. melt your mood with our hawaiian breeze fragrance.
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we continue with "20/20"'s tragedy on tv. >> take a look behind me. as you can see, this is a road to nowhere. >> reporter: when aspiring to get to network television, local reporters will often tell you their "reel" is everything, a compilation of clips that showcase a correspondent's on-air charisma and creativity. in vester flanagan's case? not so much. >> a man bit a dog. it happened friday morning when police went looking for the suspect.
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>> reporter: flanagan had struggled in small tv markets around the country for years. never making his mark in the media. >> vester flanagan. >> reporter: but ironically, in those fateful morning hours of wednesday, flanagan would produce his own demise, and that of two others, like he would one of his news packages. not on tv, but filming it all on his phone, spewing bitterness and frustration on social media. >> this is all about, "you look at me, you respect me. i'm not a bad person, these are bad people, and i got rid of them." obviously none of that makes any rational sense. but in his mind, he sort of hit the jackpot of attention getting. >> reporter: before it all went so wrong, flanagan's life seemingly started full of promise here in this other city by the bay, oakland, california. at skyline high school, proud home of the titans, flanagan was one of those "cool" kids. his yearbook shows a popular and
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outgoing student who was voted junior prom court prince. >> all the cute girls hung out with vester, but he wasn't really dating. he was the best-dressed guy in school. very good-looking young man. >> reporter: it turns out the reason flanagan didn't like to date girls was because he preferred guys. >> like i told my friend, i was like, "well, you know, vester, i think he -- i think he might be gay." but i think back then it wasn't the thing to come out as a gay black male. >> reporter: as shown on his twitter feed, since an early age, flanagan's good looks landed him work as a part-time model. but his real dream was to make it big in television news. he majored in broadcast journalism at san francisco state university, and also landed an internship at kpix tv in san francisco. where he made an impression on former anchor barbara rodgers. >> in the years that i knew him in the early '90s, he was like so many other young people who come through the newsroom. happy to be in the tv station,
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happy to have his foot in the door on his first job, eager to do a good job. >> reporter: flanagan launched his on-air career in relative obscurity in dusty, oil-rich midland, texas, where he filed reports for kmid television. after a brief stint, he moved on to the spanish moss oak trees and antebellum homes of savannah, georgia, reporting for wtoc. >> each year, small businesses pump $1.6 billion. >> everyone was just starting out, so there was a lot of energy, a lot of ambition. >> reporter: elaine reyes was another young, fresh-faced reporter at wtoc, who never saw anything sinister lurking behind flanagan's million-dollar smile. >> we're going to go inside and check out the anchoring. >> i didn't personally have any issues with him. he was sometimes silly or goofy, as i think maybe we all can be
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in stressful newsrooms. he seemed like any other young reporter trying to make it in the world. >> reporter: but there was one thing that seemed to set him apart, she says. a laser-focused ambition to be famous. >> he'd go out and shoot his own stories in a three-piece suit. i think it was because he had ambitions for greater things. he wanted to be an anchor, he wanted to move up to bigger markets. >> reporter: and in 1999, it looked like his ship had finally come in. here in the florida panhandle, tallahassee, the sunshine state's capital, flanagan landed his promising job with wtwc. don shafer was the news director. >> he did a pretty good job. he had -- he was a funny guy. he could do good live shots. he could speak and walk and talk. and we actually, you know, he did so well for us we actually moved him into an anchor slot. >> finally tonight, a day at the
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beach brings in big bucks for the american cancer society. >> reporter: flanagan settled into this tallassee apartment complex, convinced that his career was about to take off. but it was all about to go south. a watershed moment one day when shafer says flanagan showed up for work, not in that three-piece suit, but in tights. >> there were some questions about whether or not he was gay or not. he had heard some comments over the headphones in the studio when he was anchoring where they were making fun of him or making comments about him. you know, zoom in on the gay boy, or, have him turn his head, or something like that. and he really took exception to that. >> reporter: shafer says that was a turning point for flanagan. all of a sudden the formerly affable reporter turned on his colleagues, lashing out at any perceived slight. the station's meteorologist nancy dignan says she was one of the targets of flanagan's hostility after she told him he made a small mistake during a
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broadcast. >> he used the term on air "opening arguments" and i said, "it's opening statements, not opening arguments." he came over and he started pretty quickly yelling at me. and when i say yelling, screaming. "you're not my news director. you're not my general manager," and on and on and on. and i was a little intimidated and nervous. >> reporter: in barely a year, shafer says the situation at the station had become intolerable, and he was forced to fire flanagan. but that wasn't the end of it. shafer says flanagan tried to sue the station for sexual discrimination. >> through our attorneys and through his attorney, we had to tell him that being gay was not a protected class and he had no grounds to sue over that. so then he quickly changed it to racial discrimination. >> reporter: in the suit, flanagan claimed a producer called him a monkey, and that other blacks were ridiculed as lazy. >> i thought that he was deeply troubled by the comments that had been made to him. >> reporter: his attorney at the time, marie mattox, says she
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found flanagan's allegation credible. >> he was consistent, and consistently told me the same thing that had happened. he appeared to be hurt by what had happened and in telling the story, i felt that he was genuine in terms of what he represented to me. >> i absolutely researched each and every one of those and the people who said they made them. and i couldn't find anything. the gm and i both got involved with that. corporate sent in some people and checked it out. we did a pretty thorough investigation and didn't really find much evidence of that at all. >> reporter: in the end, the suit was settled out of court. but with his career in tv now in tatters, flanagan was on a different path. one of destruction that would lead him here to that unsuspecting roanoke station, wdbj, and an explosive confrontation. >> he slammed his fist down on the table and threw a wooden cross at me and said, "you're going to need these." >> reporter: when
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getting fired in tallahassee, florida, vester flanagan was hop-scotching tv markets again, this time anchoring at a small station in greenville, north carolina. >> world leaders talking oil prices on sunday morning talk shows. >> reporter: hundreds of miles away from his previous job, where he'd sued his employers for discrimination. but reporter kontji anthony says flanagan wasn't exactly setting greenville's front porch friendly audience on fire. >> there were situations where i think he felt a little overwhelmed by the deadline. i would see him kind of
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scrambling around the newsroom sometimes, perspiring. i didn't know how long he would last. i could see him struggling. >> reporter: somehow he survived two and a half years -- a long stay by his own standards. but then, flanagan was on the move once again. >> you never know what happens to a co-worker when they leave the office. you think you know but maybe you don't. and i thought that he was someone who was just like every one of us. >> reporter: in fact, vester disappeared from television altogether for more than seven years, suddenly reappearing in roanoke, virginia, in 2012, with a new job and a new name. >> bryce williams, wdbj 7. >> reporter: seemingly leaving all traces of his problematic past far behind him. we tracked down the man who hired him, former wdbj news director dan dennison.
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>> he was represented by an agent. and typically, when you're dealing with agents, they have done some initial vetting of their clients before they offer him to tv stations. >> reporter: but soon history would begin to repeat itself. >> early on there started to be issues reported, conflicts between he and his co-workers. it was one after the other. >> reporter: echoing his experience in tallahassee, bryce williams began to complain about racial harassment in the roanoke newsroom. assistant news director greg baldwin remembers a key moment. >> there was an ice chest sitting out in the newsroom hall. and there was one watermelon sitting on the ice chest. >> reporter: so he took that as some kind of racial slur? >> yes, to him it was a racial slur. that people were trying to intimidate him with a >> reporter: what is the atmosphere in the newsroom, from
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your point of view, about race and sexual orientation? >> first of all i can tell you first-handedly. i'm gay. i'm treated just like everybody else. as far as race, it's never been an issue. we want to make sure our whole station is a good mix of the demographic of roanoke. >> reporter: which should have made it a good fit for williams, who was both african-american and gay. but his frustrations with the station seemed to be mounting. >> there was a series of complaints that he was just not behaving in a professional manner. >> reporter: williams told management that the photographers were conspiring against him. "the photogs were out to get me at wdbj," wrote williams in a 23-page note he sent to abc news. "one went to h.r. after working with me one time." that cameraman he singled out was adam ward. >> i think there's little doubt that he's paranoid. he, in his mind, thinks that the
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issues are not his, but theirs. >> i first brought you this story -- >> reporter: and here's where they say his and alison parker's paths may have crossed. while she's still only an intern, he accused her of making a racist comment, when she talked about a friend living on "cotton hill road" -- an actual street in roanoke. >> he had suggested that somehow that that was a slur. we didn't think he was mentally unbalanced as much as we thought he had come in with an agenda to find things that he could beat us up with. >> he threw a newspaper article on my desk from tallahassee that indicated that he had sued his previous employers for racial discrimination. >> reporter: it wouldn't be the last time. williams filed yet another discrimination lawsuit, this time against his new bosses, which would ultimately be dismissed. but not before he was fired in early 2013, and escorted from
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the station by police. an incident that was filmed by cameraman adam ward. >> and that's video that's not been released. and it's not going to be. >> reporter: and on his way out, williams made this threat. >> he slammed his fist down on the table and threw a wooden cross at me and said, "you're going to need these." >> reporter: instead of leaving town, as he had after being fired in florida, this time williams stays put - in his apartment less than a mile from the tv station. and once again, he changed his name, now calling himself "donald" flanagan. >> people who use different names tend to do that because they're uncomfortable with the previous person, and so all of that conflict and issue that he had at one location perhaps will go away using a new name. which obviously is not going to happen. >> reporter: for the next two years, williams worked for a health insurance company and ironically, a now-defunct risk management firm. but he wasn't done with wdbj, and somewhere along the way
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began setting a deadly plan in motion. on june 19th, williams bought a glock 9 millimeter gun, citing the massacre at a charleston, south carolina, church just two days before as a catalyst. he writes, "the church shooting was the tipping point." in his note to abc news, williams cites other mass shooters from columbine and virginia tech. "seung hui cho? that's my boy right there." >> mass shooters are not impulsive shooters. they plan, they figure it out, and whatever day works for them, location-wise, people-wise, et cetera, they launch. >> reporter: last month, williams dropped off his mustang at the roanoke airport and rented a chevy sedan. two weeks ago he started a twitter feed and posted childhood photos with nostalgic captions.
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>> i see the pictures of his dace now, and i think of the vester that i met, and they look like jekyll and hyde, just two different people. >> reporter: underneath it all was a simmering rage. "my anger has been building steadily." "i've been a human powder keg for a while." "just waiting to go boom!" and on wednesday morning he did just that. >> he shot three times at my wife, and she dove to the ground and curled up in a ball and that's when he shot her in the back. ♪ sami has no idea why her coat is so shiny; buddy doesn't know why he's full of energy; but mom and dad know that they're feeding them the complete nutrition of natural balance®. now available at petsmart! we're always looking to bring you the very best in pet nutrition. with natural balance®, part of our family of natural foods, you can give your pets premium quality ingredients. introducing natural balance® at petsmart. save up to 10% on dry and wet food! fill your pet with love. petsmart®. inspired by pets.
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>> reporter: it's early morning in central virginia. the sun just beginning to rise, and community waking up to the local news. >> good morning, everybody. thanks for waking up with us. >> reporter: by 6:00 a.m. field reporter alison parker and cameraman adam ward were out on location. atop the scenic smith mountain lake for live report about tourism. >> good morning. >> it's grown in so many ways. tourism and business. >> reporter: 6:43 a.m., alison begins interviewing local official vicki gardner. unbeknownst to them, a predator was lurking. focused almost completely on
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their interview. when suddenly, the sound of gunfire captured live and unedited. a sneak attack. unloading 17 rounds in all. one after another. >> reporter: okay. not sure what happened there. >> reporter: the stunned local anchor, kimberly mcbroom, unsure over what just happened. >> and i heard this "pop, pop, pop" and it did not register that it was gunshots. it probably should have but, you know, she's doing a feature story, so my mind did not immediately go to that worst case scenario. it just didn't. >> reporter: this freeze frame caught in the dying cameraman's lens reveals the shooter's image. we now know that is bryce williams, aka vester flanagan. police quickly arrive at the scene but the gunman is long gone. now heading down hardy road for about 25 miles to this fedex
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where he faxes to us at abc news that 23-page manifesto and suicide note. meanwhile back at the station -- >> we are following breaking news this morning out of franklin county. >> reporter: the rest of the news team struggles to balance grief and reporting. >> our wdjb crew was live this morning when shots were fired. >> reporter: what is it like, kimberly, to be on the other side? that's hard for a journalist. you're used to being detached. >> our job being journalists is hard and it's so important, but being on the other side is rough. >> reporter: and then at about 8:45 a.m., this solemn announcement to their viewers. >> it is my very, very sad duty to report that alison and adam died this morning shortly after 6:45 when the shots rang out. >> reporter: the 24-year-old reporter alison parker and her
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cameraman, 27-year-old adam ward killed on the job. the woman they were interviewing, vicki gardner, shot in the back. now hospitalized. desperate and looking for clues wdbj staffers replay the video of the incident investigating that fleeting image of the gunman. >> when we saw the freeze frame from adam's camera, we all looked at that and said, man, that sure does look like bryce. >> reporter: station management alert the authorities who now have a suspect. >> black male, bald head, vester lee flanagan of roanoke. >> reporter: but in a seemingly calculated maneuver, he isn't in his car but rather a rented chevy sonic. which is now speeding up interstate 81. shortly after 10:00 a.m., a man claiming to be bryce williams called an abc news staffer in new york and said he shot two people and the police were after him.
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he hung up and we called local authorities. >> he is letting people know who i am, what i have done, and now i'm an important person. >> reporter: remember, just two weeks prior, he set up various social media accounts with modeling photos and his resume tape. >> suspect is believed to be armed and dangerous, use caution. >> reporter: he took to internet to air his grievances about the victims. tweeting, "alison made racist comments." and "adam went to h.r. on me after working with me one time." and even more callous, posting videos of himself shooting his victims on facebook and twitter. bryce williams had carefully produced his final act. >> when you combine social media
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and live feeds of an actual murder, it's the ultimate in getting our attention. >> reporter: it's 11:20 a.m. and police have finally figured out the correct car. >> vehicle has been confirmed. a silver chevrolet sonic 2015. >> reporter: and virginia state trooper pam neff is on the side of road on watch with a secret weapon. a license plate scanner. >> it reads every license plate that comes through it, and takes a picture of it. >> reporter: she enters the plate number of the gunman's rental car. >> a pop up came up on my screen saying that vehicle had just passed my location three minutes earlier. >> reporter: immediately neff speeds down interstate 66 giving chase. >> i didn't have time to be scared. i had to do one thing and that was to stop that vehicle and identify the driver. >> reporter: but when they try to pull him over, he refuses and careens into the median. a lone trooper approaches and the gunman takes his own life. >> he died at approximately 1:30 p.m. >> reporter: in his getaway car police discover a wig, sun
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glasses, a shawl, black hat and three additional license plates. along with a glock 9 millimeter pistol and six magazines of ammunition. police also raided bryce williams' home. these photos giving a peek inside his personal space. it's a bare apartment. no sheets on the bed, dirty dishes in the sink. most interesting of all, a wall of selfies on the refrigerator. tonight the sherriff says writings found inside the apartment indicate that he was acting alone, but closely identified with the 9/11 hijackers. 24 hours after the shooting, vicki gardner awoke from a coma and according to her husband tim gardner is now in good condition. >> he shot three times at my wife and she was trying to dodge everything. he missed twice and then she dove to the ground and curled up
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in a ball and that's when he shot her in the back. >> reporter: law enforcement officials believe that he staked out the station on wednesday and followed the victims to the live shot. and the gun he used was purchased legally. tonight, this tight-knit community and family mourning two promising lives cut short. >> it just crushes my soul. it's affected everyone in the community and across the country because she was such a kind and sweet person. >> reporter: a painful loss, her live-in boyfriend of nine months chris hurd will always remember their final good-bye. >> i texted her that i loved her and to have a good day, and she said, "good night, sweet boy." she would say to me, that i was her sweet boy. and she was my queen. and that was the last that i had ever heard from her.
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next, how did bryce williams keep slipping through the cracks? >> every single h.r. person has stayed up at night worried about an employee coming in with a gun. >> when tragedy on tv returns. y, come on now. ♪ ♪ shake it, shake it baby, oohh oohh. ♪ ♪ shake it, shake it, shake it, oohh. ♪ ♪ a-b-c, it's easy as 1-2-3 ♪ as simple as do-re-me, a-b-c, 1-2-3, baby you and me, yeah. ♪ ♪ a-b-c, it's easy, it's like counting up to three. ♪ ♪ sing a simple melody, yeah. make it look easy with jeans that stretch from target. mcdonalds is getting together a mix of fun new flavors this summer. with the new oreo frappe and the new real lemonades from mccafe.
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the number is staggering. nearly 2 million americans reporting they're victims of
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workplace violence every year. so, it's the question on everyone's mind tonight. could bryce williams have been stopped somewhere along the way? bouncing from job to job, but always landing another one. and the last one that finally led him to roanoke. >> reporter: it's been three days since the fatal shooting in roanoke, virginia. the spot where the lives of alison parker and adam ward were cut short now marked by these new wooden planks. as is often the case after a shooting, there are renewed calls for gun control. but what can an employer do to uncover potential red flags and block someone like williams from the workplace? >> hiring is a high-stakes game. it always has been. every single h.r. person has stayed up at night worrying about an employee coming with a gun. >> reporter: former human resources executive turned career consultant cynthia shapiro isn't at all surprised that williams was able to land job after job despite
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his poor work record. >> there are ways to camouflage it. employees who have been terminated, you know, they can take the job off of their resume. they can go by a different name. references can be manipulated. i think companies are running pretty lean, background checks are expensive. and it doesn't always turn up what you need to know. >> reporter: in fact, she says most employers routinely disclose as little as possible to avoid potential lawsuits. >> what most companies do today is they only give what we call in human resources, rank, file, and serial number. which means, you're going to get title held, dates of employment, and that's it. it would be really nice if you could say, you know, "watch out for this person,." but that opens the company up to a lawsuit. retaliation really does happen. >> reporter: that was a concern for current wdbj general manager jeff marks.
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>> it crosses my mind every time we terminate an employee. i like to think we screen well, but we do make mistakes. >> reporter: before william's arrival at wdbj, his journalistic career seem to be in a downward spiral. remember, he had been fired and filed a lawsuit against a tallahassee station where he worked for nearly a year. don shafer was the news director there. >> he would get into people's faces, where he would get up into people's personal spaces and really confront people. >> there is a fine line between allowing an employee to move on and get another job and learn from a termination and get rehired somewhere and someone who is a danger. >> reporter: wdbj says his resume had two names, williams and flanagan.
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>> the job application was going through the h.r. process, and he was being checked for criminal record and driving record, none of which came back with any glaring issues. >> it was a well-respected agent who offered him to us. and typically, when you're dealing with agents, they have done some initial vetting of their clients before they offer him to tv stations. >> reporter: dan dennison, the news director who hired williams at wdbj says the one thing that would have been a clear red flag that tumultuous time in tallahassee was absent from his resume. >> as i recall, one of his tv stations, the one that he sued in florida, i'm not sure he actually put that on his resume. >> reporter: and williams had held several jobs after that. >> had worked for, i believe, a dot-com in the bay area. and we had contacted them, and they gave him glowing reviews. >> reporter: but what about that discrimination lawsuit he filed back in florida? >> that wouldn't necessarily come up on a background check. if it didn't go anywhere, if it was settled out of court or if there wasn't enough to move forward these things do become public record, but only at a certain point.
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>> reporter: plus, the lawsuit was settled 12 years earlier in a pre-social media world. >> there's a lot of information that a potential hiring manager would love to know, but the incentive is to not give it, because companies have to protect themselves. >> every company including this company has rules about what you can say about people when they call to check it out and basically we were told it's the amount of time they worked here and when they left. >> do people deserve a second chance? did he have credentials for what we were hiring him to do? absolutely. do we deal with people who have argumentative natures and do great work? yes. unfortunately, in this case, he had an argumentative nature and did not do good work. >> reporter: though there are laws in place that allow employers to be honest about a past employee, shapiro says they don't offer enough assurances. >> there are a lot of employees who get fired unfairly. those aren't the ones we're talking about. the ones we're talking about are people who have exhibited behavior that really makes
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them -- you know, a potential danger in the workplace. and it would be great if there was some kind of protection for companies to be able to disclose that. >> reporter: as for the man who hired and fired bryce williams at wdbj, he says workplaces could potentially be made safer if employers would be more transparent. >> i do wish you could get more information from former employers when you are looking at prospective employees. it might save lives. >> reporter: the tributes continue to grow. their names memorialized on signs around town and prayers for all who were affected by
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that's our program for tonight. thanks for watching as our thoughts go out to all those affected. let us know what you're feeling now on facebook and twitter. use #abc2020. i'm debra roberts. from all of us here at "20/20," good night. breaking news.
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the electric tower with no power. >> and it is causing a major highway shutdown right


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