Update: Virginia police order BBC journalists to delete footage of suspected shooter's crash

The World
Updated on
Reporters Alison Parker and Adam Ward were killed Wednesday morning

BBC reporters Franz Strasser and Tara McKelvey encountered a big obstacle in their coverage of a double slaying of journalists at a Virginia mall.

The two reporters were covering the manhunt of the suspected shooter when they were ordered to delete footage by police. On Wednesday night, Corinne Geller, the statewide public relations manager for the Virginia State Police, tweeted at Strasser.

The National Press Photographers Association has also requested a formal investigation.

The incident occured after Alison Parker, 24, and Adam Ward, 27, were fatally shot while reporting live for WDBJ7 at a shopping mall in Monetta, Virginia. The woman they interviewed was also wounded.

During the ensuing manhunt, the suspected gunman, Vester Lee Flanagan — known to colleagues as Bryce Williams — shot himself after police chased his car. The Virginia State police issued a statement on their Facebook page:

“The suspect vehicle refused to stop and sped away from the trooper. Minutes later, the suspect vehicle ran off the road and crashed. The troopers approached the vehicle and found the male driver suffering from a gunshot wound. He is being transported to a nearby hospital for treatment of life-threatening injuries,” the report says. Flanagan later died, the BBC reported.

The BBC reporters, Strasser and McKelvey, were reporting from the scene of the crash when they were told by police to delete their video footage.

According to Strasser's Twitter feed, the reporters were left with only low-quality iPhone footage. He has since been able to recover a few of the images and audio until the officer made sure the footage was deleted.

It's not the first time reporters in Virginia have had trouble filming police.

Just last year WTVR-TV in Richmond reported on two incidents involving police officers and cellphones in Petersburg and Norfolk. According to the ACLU of Virginia, their office has documented citizens who have been charged for filming police — usually as a violation of wiretapping laws.

The Committee to Protect journalists weighed in, citing legal evidence, including details from a 2012 case that had to do with recording an arrest in Baltimore.

"The right to record police officers while performing duties in a public place, as well as the right to be protected from the warrantless seizure and destruction of those recodings, are not only required by the Constitution. They are consistent with our fundamental notions of liberty, promote the accountability of our governmental officers, and instill public confidence in the police officers who serve us daily."

There are two specific instances when government officers or employees can demand certain materials. The first is if there is enough evidence to suggest that the person is committing a crime, and the second is to prevent death or bodily harm to another person.

People have also been uncovering more of the shooter's background.

Jeff Marks, the general manager of WDBJ, says Flanagan used to work at WDBJ, but was ousted two years ago for an undisclosed reason. Following his dismissal, Flannagan filed a complaint against the station in 2014 with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, accusing various staffers of making racial comments. That complaint was eventually dismissed. It wasn't Flannagan's first time making such allegations against an employer. In 2000, he filed a discrimination lawsuit against Tallahassee TV station WTWC. The case was settled out of court in 2001.

Flanagan faxed a rambling 23-page document to ABC News shortly after the attack. He claims that what he did was a reaction to the Charleston church shooting. He expresses admiration for the Virginia Tech and Columbine High School shooters, and includes a long list of grievances, many of which have to do with racism, homophobia and sexual harasssment directed toward him.

"The church shooting was the tipping point," he writes in the manifesto, "but my anger has been building steadily ... I've been a human powder keg for a while ... just waiting to go BOOM!!!!!"

Marks called WDBJ's Parker and Ward "the kindest and nicest people who worked here...I can't figure out any connection."

Since the news broke on Wednesday, Parker and Ward's colleagues, families and friends have been sharing photos of the two.

For more of the BBC's coverage of the shooting in Virginia, read their live blog.

PRI's James Edwards contributed to this report.

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