Vester Lee Flanagan, the Virginia shooter who worked at WDBJ under the name Bryce Williams, accused co-worker Alison Parker of racism after she used the phrase “out in the field” to describe a reporter who was on assignment.
The New York Post examined a complaint Flanagan filed with WDBJ shortly before he was fired in 2013. In the complaint, Flanagan mentioned two instances in which Alison Parker had used language he claimed was racist in his presence. Assistant news director Greg Baldwin wrote, “One was something about ‘swinging’ by some place; the other was out in the ‘field.'”
After the shooting but before he was caught by police, Flanagan used his Twitter account to justify the shooting of Parker because, “Alison made racist comments.”
WDBJ cameraman Trevor Fair tells the New York Post, “We would say stuff like, ‘The reporter’s out in the field.’ And he would look at us and say, ‘What are you saying, cotton fields? That’s racist.'” Fair added, “We’d be like, ‘What?’ We all know what that means, but he took it as cotton fields, and therefore we’re all racists.”
Another incident which supposedly set off Flanagan was when the station’s general manager brought a watermelon in for his employees. Fair tells the NY Post, “Of course, he thought that was racist. He was like, ‘You’re doing that because of me.’ No, the general manager brought in watermelon for the entire news team. He’s like, ‘Nope, this is out for me. You guys are calling me out because I’m black.’” According to Fair, Flanagan once told him 7-Eleven convenience stores were racist because they sold watermelon flavored Slurpees.
Ryan Fuqua, a video editor at WDBJ, tells the NY Post, “That’s how that guy’s mind worked. Just crazy, left-field assumptions like that.”
As for Alison Parker, she was never disciplined for her alleged statements. A former black classmate of Parker’s disputes the idea she was racist, telling the Associated Press, “When I took [a journalism] job, she recommended me.” In addition, Deon Guillory, the black producer who trained Parker while she was an intern at WDBJ, gave several interviews this week in which he praised her.
Flanagan had previously been let go from another TV station in Florida. After he was dismissed he filed a lawsuit against the station. The suit was eventually settled. Flanagan also filed a lawsuit after he was fired by WDBJ in 2013. That suit was eventually dismissed.