Breaking News Emails
In a somber moment on Friday morning, the Virginia television station WDBJ marked one year since two of its journalists were gunned down at point-blank range during a live broadcast.
The station, in a rare moment of silence, shared remembrances of reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward. Photos showed them working in the studio or out on assignment or acting goofy off-camera. All of them had one thing in common: They were smiling.
"It was beautiful," said Jeff Marks, who was the general manager at the Roanoke-based CBS affiliate when Parker and Ward were killed by a former co-worker on Aug. 26, 2015.
Marks left his position about six months ago to join corporate owner Gray Television as the director of talent development, splitting his time between Florida and Maine. But in the past year, Parker and Ward are not far from his thoughts — especially on a day when his rawest feelings have come flooding back.
"A year ago right now, we were all traumatized," Marks told NBC News. "I went through that morning in my mind again this morning. What happened now, what happened next."
"It was," he added, "the worst day for all of us."
Parker, a recent graduate of James Madison University, had turned 24 just a week before the killing and made an impression as a go-getter.
Ward, 27, was engaged to a producer at the station and was set to move with her out of state for her new job. He was known for his quirky sense of humor and a pride for his alma mater, Virginia Tech.
The pair was sent on a routine assignment to cover the local tourism destination of Smith Mountain Lake. The light feature was disrupted by an ambush that unfolded while thousands of viewers were already watching the early-morning newscast.
A gunman first fired at Parker, then trained his weapon onto Ward.
The gunman was identified as former co-worker Vester Flanagan II, 41, who had been fired from the station two years earlier after other WDBJ employees found him difficult to work with.
Police say the execution-style attack was premeditated, and Flanagan posted his own video of the shootings on social media. He killed himself hours later as police closed in.
Meanwhile, Marks and his colleagues could only watch in helpless horror as Parker and Ward were attacked. Parker's boyfriend, Chris Hurst, a late-night anchor at the station, was roused from his sleep to help cover the tragedy.
The journalists mobilized to stay on top of what would become a national story while coming to grips that members of their own team were the victims — for reasons that they didn't yet understand.
"Journalism is by and large a safe profession in the United States," Marks said. "These people were the victims of a horrible workplace grudge that had little to do with them being journalists, except that this miscreant used the fact that they were on live television to magnify his crime."
In memory of Parker, her family and Hurst planned to kayak this week, spend time outdoors and do other activities she loved to honor her life.
"I’m hoping Friday won’t be agony but for at least part of the day I’m assuming it will be,” Hurst said in an email to The Roanoke Times.
Hurst, who carried around a photo album Parker had made of them, said he learned a number of lessons in the aftermath of the anguishing events.
"There remains the opportunity to use (the station's position) for good and to give a voice to those who are struggling in their own way and need community comforting just as we have received," he told the newspaper.
The station's staff, along with Parker's and Ward's families, have created scholarships to keep their memories and dedication to journalism alive. WDBJ also unveiled a memorial outside the building. The brand new "Studio A" inside the building has taken on a posthumous honor.
Meanwhile, Parker's father, Andy Parker, has been outspoken about standing up to the U.S. gun lobby, saying at a Capitol Hill rally last September that "the overwhelming majority of Americans agree with common-sense reforms."
Marks said he would like for the younger generation of journalists to simply nurture what Parker and Ward stood for.
"These were two young people who aspired to excellence and were inspired by a joie de vivre, a happiness," Marks said. "And one of the lessons we can learn from the way they lived their lives is to inspire."
He added that they wanted to "make a mark" past the camera and bright lights of television.
"They answered the bell," Marks said. "If there was something that needed to be done, they did it."
Marks said he planned Friday to visit the Roanoke newsroom for the first time since leaving. He will also make a special stop at the memorial, he said, making a promise to his fallen friends to never forget them.