Wednesday’s killings stir memories of attack

Published 10:12 am Thursday, August 27, 2015

As I was watching coverage of two journalists who were killed Wednesday earlier during a live broadcast, my mind kept wandering back to my own close call.

Reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward were presenting a story on local tourism when they were shot and killed by a former colleague.

They were attacked because of a vendetta by Vester Lee Flanagan II, who worked at WBDJ TV as Bryce Williams.

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As Ward fell to the ground, his camera caught an image of Flanagan. It was a senseless tragedy that left viewers, journalists and people around the country stunned.

On June 21, 2013, former Post photographer Eli Baylis and I were attacked for doing our job. Fortunately we escaped, unlike Parker and Ward who were shot at close range.

That Friday night, Eli and I were working the weekend shift and had already left for a farewell get-together for departing editor Sean Murphy.  About an hour later, we got a call of a disturbance involving up to 400 people at the city park pavilion.

Going to any active crime scene is dangerous, but I had an ominous feeling as we loaded into my Dodge Stratus.

With Eli in the passenger seat, I drove straight for the pavilion on Lee Street. There was no one anywhere in sight when we arrived. I called back to the office and said we were leaving the scene. It’s fairly common to arrive at a disturbance call and everyone has scattered.

While I was still on the phone, we turned north on Washington Street where I saw a crowd of at least 100 teenagers and young adults running north. I stopped the car about two blocks behind the crowd and Eli opened the door far enough to stick his 200mm lens out the crack between the door and the frame of the car.

A Vicksburg police car with flashing blue lights pulled between us and the crowd, and the mass of humanity split. A few of them ran north, but the majority ran south toward us. Eli continued to snap away as the crowd approached.

Before he could shut the door, someone dragged him from my passenger seat, and punched him in the face.

“Get back in the car, now!” I yelled.

The mob began kicking my car, rocking it back and forth and punching the windshield. I was felt helpless. I couldn’t get out because of the crowd; I couldn’t reach Eli to drag him back in. I couldn’t just drive off and leave him.

After what seemed like an eternity, he broke free from the mob and was able to shut the door. I hit the gas, and we got away as quick as possible. It’s amazing I didn’t run anyone over, now that I look back at it.

After talking to police, I took Eli to the hospital where he got several stitches in his bottom lip. Later, as we looked through the photos Eli that never stopped taking throughout the attack, there was a crystal clear image of the assailant.