WDBJ-TV general manager Jeff Marks and news director Kelly Zuber found themselves on the other side of the camera this afternoon, taking questions about yesterday’s on-air murder of their colleagues Alison Parker and Adam Ward, and about former employee Vester Flanagan, who shot Parker and Ward at point-blank range during a morning show liveshot.
Marks says he was not aware whether Flanagan, who went by the name Bryce Williams during his 11 months as a reporter at the station, “had mental health issues, but he certainly had performance issues.”
“We made it mandatory for him to seek out the Employee Assistance Program and he did on at least one occasion,” Marks said, adding that his mental descent in the two years since he left the station was unknown to station management.
“Vester’s behavior annoyed a lot of people in the newsroom,” Marks said. “I would defend the actions of everyone in that newsroom when he was here. I don’t think he was the strongest applicant we’ve ever had, but he passed muster of the news management at the time.”
Zuber, who joined the station five months after Flanagan had been fired, said “out of an abundance of caution” she did not send crews on liveshots yesterday or today. Local law enforcement has offered to provide security if the station requests it. “I have the greatest news team,” Zuber said. “They have performed so well.”
Zuber said simple reminders of Adam and Alison bring emotions to the surface. “Our meteorologist this morning found a candy wrapper, while on air, that Adam Ward had eaten and left somewhere,” she said. The sports director told Zuber he “lost it” when he saw Adam’s car in the parking lot. “This staff has been incredible. They cry, they hug and then they get the job done,” Zuber said.
A reporter asked about Melissa Ott, the morning show producer whose last day at the station ended with the murder of her fiancé. “Adam’s fiancée is in tremendous grief,” Zuber said. “It is bad enough to find out your fiancé is shot. It’s worse to be the producer of the show where that happens live. This will be a long recovery for her.”