ROANOKE, Va. (AP) — The wide-eyed, open-mouthed look of shock on the face of WDBJ-TV anchor Kim McBroom was seen worldwide after her two co-workers were fatally shot on live television. But as her grieving newsroom went back to work, and she showed poise and strength Thursday as the on-camera leader of a team that refused to give in.
It was the only thing McBroom figured she could do after reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward were killed by a disgruntled former reporter who had been fired from their team two years ago.
"I'm just trying to do my job, honor their memory and do what they do," McBroom said Thursday. "Alison would do this for me. I know that."
She led a two-hour "Mornin'" show in tribute to Parker and Ward on Thursday, then kept at it, taking reporters' questions outside the studio, answering the phone and planning for the next day's broadcast.
A mother of two young children, she embraced her co-workers with hugs and even managed an occasional laugh.
The most poignant part of the on-air tribute was a moment of silence at 6:45 a.m. — exactly 24 hours after Parker and Ward were killed while doing what seemed to be a perfectly routine story. They were doing a remote live spot on tourism, interviewing an economic development official about the 50th anniversary of Virginia's Smith Mountain Lake.
"I think we all needed that moment," explained McBroom, who held hands with weatherman Leo Hirsbrunner and co-host Steve Grant, who arrived from sister station KYTV in Springfield, Missouri, to help out.
"I needed to pause and remember what happened. I think our community needed that moment. Because it's not just our loss, it's this whole area's loss. They're from this area. They have roots in this area. It was everybody's loss," she said.
From her perch at the anchor desk during Wednesday's early morning show, McBroom could hear popping sounds as Ward's camera fell, but didn't realize it was gunfire until much later.
"I thought, wow, that's weird. Did Adam's light go out on his camera?" McBroom recalled. "It's a rural area. There were like 10 different things that went through my head. This was not one of them at all."
Parker and Ward died at the scene. Their interview subject, Vicki Gardner, was seriously wounded. The team at the station tried to reach them, without a response. It was clear something was very wrong.
In the newsroom, through Ward's still-rolling camera, they could hear the words "three down," perhaps from law enforcement. A morning editor was piecing together details from various sources. For at least a few hours, it was speculation.
"How many people were shot? How badly were they hurt?" McBroom said. "We kind of had to handle it as journalists: Let's not jump to conclusions. I think in our hearts we knew it was bad."
"We were holding onto hope. Man, we were clinging on to it."
Ward's fiancee, morning producer Melissa Ott, was in the control room, working her final day before taking a new job in North Carolina. The balloons Parker had given her to celebrate her departure were still in the newsroom Thursday.
"We were trying to reassure her," McBroom said.
McBroom said she dreaded returning to work Thursday, knowing it would be "horribly difficult," but felt she had to do it.
"That's what we do," she said. "I wanted to make sure that we told her story and his story, and we're the ones that have to do that because we knew them and we loved them."