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Remembering lives of 2 fallen TV journalists

Adam Ward, Alison Parker gunned down during Wednesday morning broadcast

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The killing of news photographer Adam Ward and reporter Alison Parker, both employees of Roanoke, Virginia, TV station WDBJ, has taken its toll on friends, family and those working in newsrooms across the country.

On Wednesday morning, Parker and Ward were shot to death while doing a live report from a shopping district near Moneta, Virginia. The person they were interviewing, Vicki Gardner, executive director of the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce, was shot in the back and rushed into surgery.

Vester Flanagan, a former WDBJ reporter who was fired from the station two years ago, is the suspected gunman in the shooting and took his own life after the attack, police said.

The news is sometimes a business of rivalries, but on days like Wednesday, the people working in every station across the country came together to mourn the loss of two of their own, hearts heavy, especially for those who knew the victims.

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The deaths of Ward and Parker rocked the staff of News4Jax but none more so than one of the station's beloved executive producers, Bethany Tucker, who personally knew and had at one time worked closely with everyone involved in the tragedy.

"My heart started beating out of my chest. I started shaking. I couldn't believe something like this would happen," Tucker said.

Tucker had worked closely with and became friends with Ward and Parker at WDBJ before coming to Channel 4.

Ward and Parker were described as over-achievers who were on a fast track to success both professionally and in their personal lives.

Parker was dating WDBJ's main anchor Chris Hurst, and the two were looking toward the future and talking of marriage.

Hurst texted Tucker Wednesday morning, expressing the loss of the woman who he said was his life.

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"I still remain very close with her boyfriend, who is a main anchor there and he texted me this morning, ‘I lost my everything,'" Tucker said.

Tucker said she also worked with gunman Vester Flanagan (pictured below) at WDBJ in Roanoke. At the time, Flanagan went by the on-air name Bryce Williams. He lasted only a year at the job because of recurring personnel issues.

"There were so many instances where people were coming to managers saying that they have some sort of problem -- whether it was that he got agitated out of nowhere or that people didn't feel comfortable working around him," Tucker said.

Tucker's former co-workers told her when Flanagan was let go from WDBJ, he threatened station employees and months later acted on that anger in a disturbing way, videotaping the shooting of Ward, Parker and Gardner in an ambush attack.

Tucker said it could have happened anywhere.

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"Everyone (in our industry) has been at a live shot, everyone has been out reporting or seen it, and to think a live shot about the community and the economy and that it could happen there, it's terrifying," Tucker said.

Through tragedy, though, comes love and remembrance. The memories of the fallen are reflected through the lives and stories of the people Ward and Parker touched.

"Adam was a delightful person. He worked hard. You could tell he loved what he was doing," said Virginia Tech professor Robert Denton, who taught Ward while he was a student there and worked with him as a guest broadcaster at WDBJ. "He wasn't afraid to pitch in and do whatever was necessary for the broadcast. He did whatever was needed with a smile and with grace. He was simply a very nice young man and very professional."

Hurst spoke of his love and loss for Parker on social media, saying that he and Parker were "very much in love," having just gotten a place together.

"I am numb," he wrote. "She was the most radiant woman I ever met. And for some reason, she loved me back. She loved her family, her parents and her brother.

"Your thoughts and prayers mean the world to me," he said.

In the end, two dedicated journalists lost their lives doing what they loved and will always be remembered for the love and professionalism they shared with everyone they encountered.

"These were two people who were young and very special. People will remember them for their smiles and the happiness they brought with them to the newsroom each and every day," Tucker said.

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