Friends and colleagues of two journalists slain on live TV Wednesday morning hailed Alison Parker and Adam Ward as dedicated, energetic professionals with bright futures ahead of them.
"They were our A team — Alison and Adam," said Kelly Zuber, news director at WDBJ7-TV in Roanoke, Va., where both worked.
Parker, 24, and Ward, 27, were fatally shot while filming an early morning interview. An intense manhunt for the suspect in the attack ended when Vester Flanagan, 41, a former employee at the same TV station, shot himself. He was later pronounced dead at a hospital.
Parker handled the early morning shift and "had tremendous anchor potential," Zuber said. "She was one of those people who had many talents but didn’t know it. She was kind to everyone, humble, easy to get along with. We all told her she was a rising star but that never went to her head."
Zuber praised Ward's work ethic. He would film early morning shoots, then return to work in the evening to handle high school football coverage, Zuber said. The football coverage even became a family affair: Ward's father worked as a temporary employee to help out during the busy season, taking notes on plays and other action during the games.
"Adam was one of those photographers who would go anywhere, do anything for you," Zuber said.
WDBJ7-TV spokesman Mike Morgan said Parker and Ward were "two outstanding professionals. Both were so dedicated to their jobs. Both of them were go-to people. They were so energetic."
Parker's family released a statement to ET (Entertainment Tonight): "Today we received news that no family should ever hear. Our vivacious, ambitious, smart, engaging, hilarious, beautiful, and immensely talented Alison was taken from the world. This is senseless and our family is crushed."
Both victims were dating co-workers at the TV station. Parker had been dating Chris Hurst, an anchor at WDBJ7-TV, for almost nine months. The two had just returned from a whitewater rafting trip in the Blue Ridge mountains last weekend, Zuber said. Hurst told Zuber that, after the rafting trip, Parker was "as happy as he'd ever seen her."
After her death, Hurst tweeted a photo of the couple together. The two "were very much in love," he tweeted. "We just moved in together. I am numb."
Ward was engaged to WDBJ7-TV producer Melissa Ott.
Ott was working behind the scenes of the morning news show and watched the shooting as it happened, Zuber said. Ott had just accepted a job at a TV station in Charlotte, N.C., and the couple were planning to relocate there. Wednesday was Ott's last day at the station. "Melissa was the love of his life, so he was going to follow her," Zuber said.
Parker was interviewing Vicki Gardner of the local chamber of commerce when the shooting happened. Gardner was also shot and hospitalized. Gardner was taken to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital for emergency surgery. According to a statement from the hospital, Gardner is recovering and in stable condition. Gardner is a member Carilion Franklin Memorial Hospital Board of Directors.
Ward graduated from Salem High School in Salem, Va., and Virginia Tech, the station said. Parker grew up in Martinsville, Va., and attended Patrick Henry Community College before graduating from James Madison University in 2012. While at James Madison, Parker earned a bachelor's degree in media arts and design and was a reporter and editor for the student newspaper, The Breeze.
She interned at WDBJ7-TV while in college, Zuber said. After graduation, Parker went on to work at WCTI News Channel 12 in Jacksonville, N.C., before moving to the Roanoke station.
Ryan Parkhurst, a faculty member at James Madison, taught Parker and served as her adviser. During his 11 years as a teacher, Parkhurst said he never met a student who had a job lined up in broadcast news before graduation, but Parker did.
“She was bubbly, she was smart,” Parkhurst said. “I keep using superlatives, which feels cheap, but she was all of those superlatives. She was everything that makes a good reporter.”
In a statement on its website, James Madison University said Parker "had a passion for journalism and had a bright future. We're shocked and saddened by the news and circumstances of her death. Our thoughts are with her family, friends and colleagues."
Before her death, Parker was heavily involved in producing an hour-long, prime-time special report on child abuse, Zuber said. Todd Schurz, president and CEO of Schurz Communications, which owns WDBJ7-TV, said the company was heartbroken "at the tragic and senseless loss."
"At the time of their murders, they were involved in the most important aspect of journalism — telling the stories important to their local communities," he said in a statement. "Our focus now is to comfort their families and loved ones and to assist law enforcement in their investigation."
On Twitter, Hurst described his relationship with Parker as "the best nine months of our lives. We wanted to get married. We just celebrated her 24th birthday." He described Parker as "the most radiant woman I ever met. And for some reason she loved me back. She loved her family, her parents and her brother."
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