What we know about the slain WDBJ journalists

Published: Wednesday, August 26, 2015 @ 1:15 PM
Updated: Wednesday, August 26, 2015 @ 2:53 PM


            
            Photo credit: Twitter account @WDBJ7
(Photo credit: Twitter account @WDBJ7)

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A reporter and a photographer were shot and killed Wednesday while conducting a live interview for WDBJ. A former WDBJ employee, Vester Lee Flanagan, 41, who went by the on-air name of Bryce Williams, is the alleged shooter. He shot himself after a police chase, and later died while in custody. Here is what we know about the victims.

Who were the victims? A gunman shot and killed reporter Alison Parker and photographer Adam Ward while they were conducting a live interview that was being broadcast on WDBJ, a Virginia news station. The subject of the interview, Vicki Gardner of the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce, was also shot. She had emergency surgery and is recovering.

>>Read more about the shootings

Young, but promising future  ahead: Parker was 24, and Ward was 27. Parker graduated from James Madison University, and was an intern at WDBJ before being hired as the station’s “Mornin’” reporter, according to her WDBJ profile page. 

Ward, 27, was a Virginia Tech graduate, according to WDBJ. Ward had worked for the station since 2011. He was reportedly planning to follow his fiancée, WDBJ producer Melissa Ott, to North Carolina, where she was moving for a new job opportunity.

Parker and Ward worked together often, according to Parker’s boyfriend, WDBJ anchor Chris Hurst.

WDBJ anchor Kimberly McBroom told NBC that Parker and Hurst were “fine journalists” who “always made their colleagues smile.”

WDBJ posted "A look at the lives of WDBJ7's Alison Parker and Adam Ward," which showed highlights from their brief but bright journalism careers.

Both were in relationships with WDBJ staffers:

Parker had been dating WDBJ evening anchor Chris Hurst for nine months. Hurst wrote a loving tribute to Parker on his Twitter account.

>>Read Hurst’s tribute to Parker

He also posted several photos of himself and Parker on his Facebook page.

We didn't share this publicly, but Alison Parker and I were very much in love. We just moved in together. I am numb. We...

Posted by Chris Hurst Wdbj on Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Ward was engaged to WDBJ producer Melissa Ott. Ward posted a photo of the couple’s engagement on his Facebook page.

CNN reported that Ott was in the WDBJ news control room at the time of the shootings.

Alison Parker's family releases statement

The family of Parker released a public statement addressing the death of their daughter on Wednesday afternoon. The family expressed how senseless the crime was and said they were "crushed" by the loss of their daughter.

Tom Petty died of accidental drug overdose, family says

Published: Friday, January 19, 2018 @ 7:15 PM

The Life of Tom Petty

Tom Petty died from an accidental drug overdose after taking a variety of medications, the family for the legendary rock star said Friday. 

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Petty, who suffered emphysema, knee problems and more recently a fractured hip, was prescribed various pain medications including Fentanyl patches, his family said. 

“On the day he died he was informed his hip had graduated to a full on break and it is our feeling that the pain was simply unbearable and was the cause for his over use of medication,” his family wrote on Facebook

The family called Petty’s Oct. 2 death an unfortunate accident. 

“As a family we recognize this report may spark a further discussion on the opioid crisis and we feel that it is a healthy and necessary discussion and we hope in some way this report can save lives. Many people who overdose begin with a legitimate injury or simply do not understand the potency and deadly nature of these medications.”

DOVER, DE - JUNE 22: Tom Petty performs onstage at the Firefly Music Festival at The Woodlands of Dover International Speedway on June 22, 2013 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Firefly Music Festival)(Theo Wargo)

‘Ramp of Mystery’ in middle of nowhere was drone test site

Published: Friday, January 19, 2018 @ 6:58 PM

The
The "Ramp of Mystery." (Photo: Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman)

If you search on Google Maps for “Ramp of Mystery,” a curious Southeast Austin landmark appears. It’s a concrete structure that leads to nowhere, sitting in an overgrown field.

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It’s a steep ramp with too much of an incline to walk up easily. To the side, an aging and precarious set of wooden steps goes up to the top, where the path that led to the ramp leads to nothing -- just a steep dropoff over a short boundary and lots of graffiti all around the structure.

The ramp has been the subject of lots of online speculation, especially since it became the subject of a Reddit thread in late 2016. Was it part of an old military project, this  thing off an office park at 6900 Metropolis Drive? A structure that once connected to a shipping dock? A base for gravel dumping? A piece of a road that once connected to East Ben White Boulevard? What was this thing?

Adam van Alderwerelt, an Austin lighting designer and video engineer, became a bit obsessed with the ramp after volunteering at a nearby building that housed evacuees from Hurricane Harvey.

“Nobody at the shelter even knew what it was,” he said. “I only saw it because it was on Google Maps when I was looking for directions to and from the shelter.”

Van Alderwerelt shot a YouTube video, “What is South Austin’s Ramp of Mystery??” 

“I thought, let’s bring some awareness to this thing,” van Alderwerelt said. “It’s a hidden oddity of Austin.”

The buzz around this curious structure prompted a reader to ask our Austin Answered project: “Please tell us about the Ramp of Mystery in South Austin; Google it!”

We did. But the ramp didn’t divulge its origin so easily. Visits to the Austin History Center to study old aerial photographs of the area proved inconclusive, except to show that it probably didn’t originate before the early 1980s. A wide call on social media for any local insight on the landmark yielded a few leads, but nothing concrete, so to speak. The current owners of the lot, Zydeco Development Corporation, said by phone they didn’t know what the ramp was for or why it was built.

A request to Lockheed Martin, which owned a facility in the area that opened to much fanfare in the 1980s, was unsuccessful. The company checked but was unable to find records related to the ramp or its purpose.

But leave it to a historian to crack the case.

Austin history buff Lanny Ottosen tracked down names on an old document related to the property he found at the Austin History Center. One of those names was Frank Niendorff, who for many years ran Commercial Industrial Properties Co. (also known as NAI Austin).

Niendorff, who spent two years brokering the property deal to bring Lockheed Missiles and Space to Austin (for one year, the identity of the buyer was a secret even to him), remembered the ramp well.

“There’s nothing mysterious about the ramp,” he said this week by phone, “When Lockheed first came here, they were working on developing a government contract for a drone. This was when drones were first imagined. This was a drone that would be launched from a ramp.”

The program, called “Aquila,” involved hydraulic catapults to launch the drone and a net that would catch the unmanned aerial vehicles. The drones would be used to provide laser guidance for weapons systems.

The San Diego Air and Space Museum has archive footage on YouTube of what appears to be such a system.

Despite the work Lockheed did with the drone project on that ramp, Niendorff said, the government bid was unsuccessful.

“They spent millions of dollars trying to get this contract, building prototypes,” he said. “Ultimately, Lockheed ended up building other things at that facility, including concrete bunker bombs.” 

Kenneth Ross, a spokesman for Lockheed, said that as far as the ramp goes, Niendorff appears to have the right information.

“The info you’ve discovered gives us confidence that you have the right story,” Ross wrote in an email.

When informed of the drone-based answer to the question he’d been asking, van Alderwerelt said by phone Friday, “That’s amazing! I never would have thought of that.”

Texas judge interrupts jury, says God told him defendant is not guilty

Published: Friday, January 19, 2018 @ 2:44 PM

Texas Judge Says God Told Him Defendant is Not Guilty

Comal County judge said God told him to intervene in jury deliberations to sway jurors to return a not guilty verdict in the trial of a Buda woman accused of trafficking a teen girl for sex.

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Judge Jack Robison apologized to jurors for the interruption but defended his actions by telling them, “When God tells me I gotta do something, I gotta do it,” according to the Herald-Zeitung, in New Braunfels.

The jury went against the judge’s wishes, finding Gloria Romero-Perez guilty of continuous trafficking of a person and later sentenced her to 25 years in prison. They found her not guilty of a separate charge of sale or purchase of a child.

Robison, who also presides in Hays County, did not respond to a message left with his court coordinator, Steve Thomas, who said the case is pending.

The Herald-Zeitung reported that Robison recused himself before the trial’s sentencing phase and was replaced by Judge Gary Steele. The defendant’s attorney asked for a mistrial but was denied.

Robison’s actions could trigger an investigation from the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, which has disciplined Robison in the past.

In 2011, the commission slapped Robison with a private reprimand for improperly jailing a Caldwell County grandfather who had called him a fool for a ruling Robison made in a child custody case involving the man’s granddaughter.

The reprimand, the commission’s harshest form of rebuke, said Robison “exceeded the scope of his authority and failed to comply with the law” by jailing the man for contempt of court without a hearing or advance notice of the charge.

Texas boy battles brain infection doctors say was caused by flu

Published: Friday, January 19, 2018 @ 2:11 PM

Flu Causes Brain Infection in Texas Boy

Witten Ramirez is fighting for his life after doctors said he contracted a brain infection caused by the flu.

Witten’s mother, Desiree, said that the whole family had the flu last week, but the 8-year-old had it worse than the others, KXAS reported.

She said he was sleeping too much and stumbled when he walked.

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To be safe, Desiree took him to the emergency room, thinking that he might be having a reaction to medication. 

Instead, testing found that somehow the flu had caused an infection in his brain, which was attacking the part of the brain that controls movement.

Witten now cannot walk, sit, stand or talk, Desiree told KXAS.

Neurologists said the infection is called cerebellitis, an inflammatory process that can be a complication from the flu in rare cases with no risk factors.

“You can have otherwise seemingly healthy individuals whose bodies handle flu in such a way to lead to a neurologic complication, which is why we spend so much time focusing on prevention,” Dr. Benjamin Greenberg told KXAS.

Prevention, Greenberg said, is the flu vaccine.

Witten’s mother said her son didn’t get a flu shot this year as he had in previous years.

Children can recover from cerebellitis, but doing so will involve rehabilitation, which is already planned for Witten, KXAS reported