In Alison Parker's Hometown, Finding A Way to Move Forward
It was Wednesday morning when reporter Danielle Staub got a phone call. The kind you never hope to receive.
“I was told to get to Roanoke right away,” Staub said. “There’s been an incident at a live shot.”
Staub covers Martinsville, Va., and nearby counties for WDBJ-TV in Roanoke. She jumped out of bed, got ready, got to her car.
And then she realized what had happened.
“My phone was blowing up, people were wondering if I was okay,” Staub said. “And I saw the video that had aired on television. And my heart broke.”
Her colleague Alison Parker had been shot and killed, live on the air, along with photojournalist Adam Ward. The video went viral online, as did a later video posted by the shooter.
But to Staub, Parker was more than a colleague: she was practically family.
Martinsville is Parker’s hometown, and she and her parents would check in on Staub, give her news tips and advice. But Staub says, above all, Parker was kind.
“Alison was a ray of sunshine,” Staub said. “She was a brilliant girl. She was exciting to be around, she always had a smile on her face, she was always laughing. And she was a genuinely good person.”
That kindness, and Parker’s work ethic, comes up time after time when you talk to people who knew her, like former English teacher and school board member Carol McCraw.
McCraw taught Parker’s 11th grade English class. She says the respect, skill, and joy Parker brought to her classroom made her special.
“The minute she walked through my doors, I could tell she was going to be successful,” McCraw said.
The last time McCraw saw Parker was Wednesday morning when she turned on the TV. There was her student, Alison Parker, doing a live report. It made her happy to see her former pupil doing what she loved.
She says she tuned in around 6:45 a.m.—shortly before Parker and Ward were killed. But she missed the fatal moment.
“I was not a witness to the tragedy that took place,” McCraw said. “And I’m very thankful for that, because it’s hard for me to even talk about it, or think about it.”
McCraw isn’t alone in her shock, and all around this close-knit city, people who knew Parker are trying to process their loss and find a way forward.
For some, it means leaving flowers at the Ray Hollingsworth Dance Studio, where Parker danced for years. At Patrick Henry Community College, her alma mater, they’re creating a scholarship in her name.
Mayor Danny Turner says the community is planning a permanent memorial, too. On Thursday, the Martinsville City Council took donations at a candlelight vigil that they’ll donate to the Martinsville High School Class of 2009.
“[The Class of 2009] has a webpage up where you can make donations,” Turner said. “We’re going to see how much money we can raise, hopefully to put up some marble tables up for her.”
Meanwhile, Parker’s friend and colleague, Danielle Staub, says it’s been several days now of ups and downs. But she keeps coming back to who Parker really was, and she smiles.
“She was a journalist. She was energetic, she was radiant, she brought life into a room,” Staub said. “She loved her job. And she was so happy.”
So soon after her death, moving forward will be hard for those in Martinsville who were closest to Alison Parker.
But remembering the best of her may be a good first step.