By Greg Toppo
August 30, 2015
The manager of two television journalists slain during a live broadcast last week urged Americans to "speak directly to anger" and help those whose mental illness is "a destructive force" that threatens communities.
"Anger eats at you, and the results, we saw Wednesday, can be catastrophic," said WDBJ-TV General Manager Jeff Marks during a lengthy, prayer-filled memorial service held in Roanoke, Va., for reporter Alison Parker, 24, and photographer Adam Ward, 27. The pair died on Wednesday after a former reporter at the station, Vester Flanagan, ambushed them during a live shot near Roanoke.
Flanagan killed himself hours later as police chased him about 200 miles northeast of the shootings.
At Sunday's service, Marks said he found himself "angry at the miscreant," without naming Flanagan, after Wednesday's shooting. But he said he was also angry at the USA's mental health system, as well as its easy access to weapons. "I was angry about, well, being angry," he said.
Americans, he said, must "embrace mental illness, just as we do with cancer or ALS or heart disease. Mental illness should not be on the periphery of health care. It should be obvious that it needs to be center stage, because most mental illness is treatable if we can get to the sufferer. In this case we didn't."
Marks said we should feel "no stigma on getting counseling," adding, "Our mental health system is not perfect. It needs a lot of work. But services exist and we must use them for ourselves and for those we know who have uncontrolled anger. We must learn to speak directly to anger."
He invoked former South African President Nelson Mandela, who upon being freed after spending 27 years in prison, "went back and forgave his guards. How did he do it? Could any of the rest of us do it?"
Marks said the slain duo, who often worked together, "saw as their mission to awaken us to what was good and fun in life."
He recalled that Ward was a practical joker who occasionally set an unwrapped piece of candy on the station's weather set to test if WDBJ7's weatherman found it before going on the air.
The weatherman, he said, "found one of those on Wednesday."
Parker's parents have said they'll use the deaths to campaign for new gun laws. "This is what she would want me to do," said Andy Parker. In an interview airing Sunday on CNN, Barbara Parker said her daughter "always had a smile, regardless of the circumstance."
During the interview, Parker turned to the camera and asked parents: "If you are a parent, if you are a mother, if you have children, can you look your child in the eye and say, 'We are willing to allow you to be collateral damage in order to keep what some people perceive as their constitutional rights?' If we as a society are willing to accept that, what kind of society are we?"