Instant Video Adds to Horror of On-Air Murders of Two in Virginia

NEWS ANALYSIS: Body cam, social networks played a major role in both recording the brutal murders of two people and then helping law enforcement track and catch the killer.

The shocking on-air shooting of two young journalists, Alison Parker and Adam Ward, from a Roanoke, Va., television station Aug. 26 was a scenario that could only happen in the 21st century.

A disturbed man gets and loads a weapon, attaches a cloud-service video camera (like a GoPro model or similar device) to record his actions, goes to the location, shoots two people at point blank range, then flees. But not before tweeting his actions and uploading the video to two of the most popular social networks—Twitter and Facebook.

Ironically, it was technology—the live television camera being held by one of his victims—that enabled law enforcement to quickly identify the attacker and track him down within hours after the deadly assault.

Thankfully, both Twitter and Facebook moved quickly to remove the tweets and video postings of the killer identified as 41-year-old Vester Lee Flanagan. They are to be commended; murderers should not be allowed to leave their legacy documents in the public domain to incite anybody else who might be on the edge.

Law enforcement used Google maps, facial recognition based on the television still photo to identify him, and a check of the killer's background using common Internet resources.

The chilling photo recorded by Flanagan's body camera, published on and many other sites Aug. 26, brings his appalling deed into a real-time reality that we as media consumers have rarely experienced previously. Have you ever seen a photograph like this from the shooter's perspective? Video games do not count.

You don't need to be a professional television journalist, as this killer once was, to be able to use all these tools. With the user interfaces for body cams, social networks, and handheld devices as simple as they are—and they didn't used to be this easy to use—virtually anybody now can make news, record it and publish it to the world.

Other sophisticated new-generation IT devices, such as drones, are also creating new realities in terms of observation of private individuals, military attacks, and product delivery. Automated cars will soon be the norm; what new surprise realities will those bring?

This isn't a call to halt innovation when sophisticated devices like these are brought into the markets. This isn't a call for inventors to stop inventing, or for entrepreneurs to stop starting companies based on building these new devices.

It's a call for all of us to remember that some humans will do whatever they are compelled to do, using any technology at their disposal, to carry out their deeds—both good and bad—and now, instantly post it on line to grab attention.

The technology is merely an unwilling accomplice.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 15 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...