ROANOKE, Va. (AP) — Alison Parker seemed destined for the anchor chair. Adam Ward was upbeat, the kind of cameraman everyone wanted to work with in the wee hours of the morning.
The two young journalists were killed on live television Wednesday by a disgruntled former reporter they once worked with at WDBJ-TV. They were doing an innocent story about the 50th anniversary of a reservoir known as Smith Mountain Lake when the gunman walked up to them and fired. The chilling images of Parker running away were captured on Ward’s camera as he fell to the ground.
Like young journalists across the country, the pair was eager for a story, chomping at the bit to cover big news and active on social media. In Roanoke, the nation’s 67th largest media market, Parker and Ward were also something else: hometown kids who became local celebrities.
“They grew up in this area,” Franklin County Sheriff Bill Overton said. “They were part of our community.”
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They were also part of a close-knit family of TV station employees who watched the killings unfold on the air and grieved publicly. And both had found love in the newsroom.
Ward, 27, was engaged to producer Melissa Ott, who watched the shooting unfold from the control room. Her last day was supposed to be Wednesday because she had accepted a new job at a station in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Parker, 24, was dating Chris Hurst, an anchor at the station. They had just moved in together.
Outside the station Thursday, Hurst talked about the couple first realizing they liked each other at WDBJ’s Christmas party. Their first date was New Year’s Day at a Mexican restaurant, which was a favorite of Parker’s. They didn’t eat though because they were so nervous.
Before her shift Wednesday, Hurst made scrambled eggs and a smoothie for Parker and packed her lunch.
“I’d never done that before for any woman, for anyone, but I wanted to do it for Alison because I loved her so much and I just took so much joy in something so minor as cutting strawberries for her and packed for her lunch.”
Like many young couples, they exchanged texts when they got to work. He worked at night. She worked in the mornings.
Her last message to him was “good night sweet boy.”
“It’s the last that I ever heard from her,” Hurst said. “I saw it before I went to sleep. And then a few hours later I woke up to some calls telling me to come to the station.”
Parker and Ward worked as a team for the station’s “Mornin'” show, a time-slot where many broadcast journalists get their start. They covered everything from breaking news to stories about child abuse.
They were “like brother and sister,” Hurst said.
A native of Martinsville, about 45 minutes from Roanoke, Parker said in a promotional video for the station that the “most thrilling” thing she ever did was take a trip to the Grand Canyon with her family and ride horseback down the canyon. She enjoyed the arts, playing trumpet and French horn in high school. And she loved Mexican food.
“The spicier, the better,” she said in the video.
She graduated from James Madison University and interned at a few stations, including WDBJ.
Parker was a highly motivated reporter who was perhaps destined to be a network anchor. She was proactive and good at making connections that help boost a reporter’s career.
“She was wise beyond her years. She was just dedicated. She lived and breathed news. You don’t find that every day,” said Ashley Talley, who was assistant news director at WCTI-TV in New Bern, North Carolina, when she hired Parker right out of college.
Talley said she talked to Parker on Tuesday.
“We were talking about the future,” Talley said, noting that Parker said, “I’m always looking ahead. But you know, the time is going to sneak up me.”
Ward played high school football. He was a devoted fan of his alma mater, Virginia Tech. He rarely, if ever, missed a Hokies game.
He was a “happy-go-lucky guy” — even during the early morning hours.
“He was the kind of guy you wanted to be around, especially at three in the morning,” said Jay Webb, a former meteorologist at WDBJ.
Drew reported from Collinsville, Virginia.
Associated Press writers Tamara Lush in St. Petersburg, Florida, Skip Foreman in Charlotte, North Carolina; Larry O’Dell in Richmond, Virginia; David Dishneau in Harrisonburg, Virginia; and Brock Vergakis in Hardy, Virginia, contributed to this report.