Bryce Williams, the disgruntled former TV newsman who gunned down two of his ex-colleagues during a live newscast in Virginia Wednesday, was told in 2012 to seek counseling or risk losing his job at WDBJ-7, according to internal memos from his personnel file obtained by the Guardian.
Williams, real name Vester Flanagan II, was fired from the station in early 2013 after getting one final warning about his aggressive behavior toward colleagues. On Wednesday morning, he opened fire on reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward, two of the people he apparently blamed for his dismissal, killing both of them. He fatally shot himself hours later, after fleeing from the police.
Williams’ personnel file describes his conflicts with coworkers over things like adjusting his mic during an interview or taking too long to edit one of his packages. Dan Dennison, who was the news director of WDBJ back in 2012, wrote to Williams in July that “it seems that you are taking the actions of many of the photographers quite personally and misinterpreting their actions or words.”
Dennison goes on to tell Williams he’s required to meet with Health Advocate, the station’s Employee Assistance Program—a blanket term that covers counseling for employees’ mental health issues or conduct at work.
On Christmas Eve that year, Dennison emailed colleagues to say he had just warned Flanagan that he had one final chance to save his job. “I’m not entirely sure where his head is at,” said Dennison. Flanagan was fired three months later.
On the day he was fired, a second memo says, Williams became so irate that Dennison had to call the police. Here’s the Guardian, drawing on documents from a wrongful termination suit Williams unsuccessfully filed against the station:
Flanagan met with Dennison and another boss in his office. There Flanagan was informed he would be terminated. When he was presented with the severance package, Flanagan reportedly became angry and called it “bullshit”.
A second memo detailing his termination records Flanagan as yelling: “I’m not leaving, you’re going to have to call the f###ing police [sic],” Flanagan reportedly said, according to the memo. “Call the police. I’m not leaving. I’m going to make a stink and it’s going to be in the headlines.”
Flanagan then stormed out of the room and slammed the door, at which point Dennison decided to call the police.
When police arrived to escort him out of the building, Flanagan refused. The officers approached Flanagan and tried to remove the desk phone from his hand, repeatedly asking him to leave.
Flanagan then threw a hat and a small wooden cross at Dennison, reportedly saying: “You need this.”
As police escorted him out of the newsroom, he told an officer, according to the memo: “ You know what they did? They had a watermelon back there for a week and basically called me a n——- [sic].”
William sued the station in March 2014, a little more than a year after he was fired, claiming racial and sexual discrimination (Williams was both black and gay), and claiming the station’s photographers had orchestrated a campaign to get him fired.
He especially blamed Ward, the cameraman he killed Wednesday morning, for allegedly reporting him to human resources after the first time they worked together.
“What I encountered while employed at WDBJ-7 was nothing short of vile disgusting and inexcusable,” Williams wrote in a filing to the judge in the case.
“Your Honor, I am not the monster here,” he wrote, according to the Guardian, “I get along with my current co-workers ... [T]hat sure doesn’t sound like the monster I was painted to be.”