Alison Parker, 24, was a “go-getter” who was “going to make it big” in broadcast journalism.
But her life was cut short after she and Adam Ward, 27, were fatally shot early Wednesday morning during a live WDBJ broadcast at a shopping center in Moneta, Va., located just outside Roanoke. Both were journalists for the local station.
“Her life was news. She loved doing this,” Parker’s WDBJ co-worker Heather Butterworth said.
Butterworth met Parker in 2012 when the two interned for WDBJ together. Both attended the nearby college, James Madison University, and worked alongside each other on the student newspaper, The Breeze.
Parker graduated in December 2012, moving to Jacksonville, N.C., to work at the local station, WCTI-TV. She and Butterworth reconnected when they were both hired by WDBJ in May 2014.
Parker, Butterworth, and Ward worked during the morning shift, beginning their days at 3:30 a.m. with a “tight-knit” group Butterworth described as “family.”
“We were together all the time, she always had a smile on her face,” she said. “We were always joking around and laughing about stupid stuff and stuffing our faces with food. The newsroom is a very stressful place so you need somebody like that.”
Parker had just moved in with her boyfriend of nine months, Chris Hurst, who also works at WDBJ as an anchor, on Aug. 1. Butterworth said they were on the path to getting married and had talked about kids.
She had ambitions of becoming a national news reporter and had just finished a special about childhood abuse.
“She was hoping for an Emmy with that special, and I truly believe she could get it because it’s an amazing piece,” Butterworth said.
Ivana J. Chan—known to Parker as “IJ”—looked to her as a mentor when she joined The Breeze’s staff her freshman year of college in 2012.
“I was really shy and quiet when I first started at The Breeze, I didn’t have that many friends and I didn’t know what I was doing,” Chan said. “Alison took me under her wing and helped me out. The Breeze became my little family and it was largely because of her.”
Chan remembers Parker as a “tough,” “precise” news editor who “knew exactly what she wanted and how to get it.”
“Alison was very driven. That’s the perfect word to describe her,” Chan said. “She would never accept a … poorly written story. She set those really high expectations for me, even when I was a new writer.”
Parker was a leader who “put 100 percent into everything she did,” but she was also compassionate and accessible.
“People were attracted to her, they just wanted to talk to her and wanted her to talk to them. It was only natural that she was a journalist,” Chan said.
Dylan Garner, who worked with Parker at The Breeze in 2012, described her as JMU’s media arts and design “superstar.”
“She was just so universally thought of as being a great, great journalist,” Garner said. “Nothing was going to get in her way because she was too good for that. She was a fighter in every sense. If there was news to uncover, she was going to do it. She wasn’t going to back out of anything. She wasn’t afraid of anything. She was truly driven to get the job done to the best of her ability and her ability was obviously very high.”
Chan said she knew Parker would “rise to the top” in her profession, a sentiment echoed by her professors at JMU, who described her as “one of the best.”
“It’s just so sad in a weird and ironic, horrible way that she’s making national and international headlines now, but in the worst way possible,” Chan said. “She had everything going for her, and she had all these hopes. All of these people were confident, so sure that she was going to get there. But she didn’t have that chance.”
The gunman, Vester L. Flanagan II, known on air as Bryce Williams, previously worked for WDBJ. He shot himself on a nearby highway about five hours after the attack and later died at Fairfax Hospital.
Chan said she hopes Parker is remembered as a “passionate, vivacious, beautiful soul.”
“That’s just what she was,” Chan said.
Natalie Johnson is a 2015 graduate from JMU in the School of Media Arts and Design. She was also a member of The Breeze staff.