The scene inside a Virginia high school auditorium sounded more like a celebration of life Monday than a visitation after a death as the family of a cameraman who was slain on live TV greeted well over 1,000 mourners at a hometown reception.
Adam Ward’s father, Charles “Buddy” Ward, exchanged long hugs with just about anyone he came in contact with at the stage, where the slow-moving line passed his son’s open casket. Pop music softly played on the speakers.
Salem High School opened its doors to the community to honor Ward, an alumnus. The 27-year-old cameraman for Roanoke television station WDBJ-TV, along with reporter Alison Parker, was gunned down last week by a former co-worker.
The family of Ward, a 2007 graduate of the school, asked visitors to wear colors of his favorite teams, Virginia Tech and Salem High. He played football for the high school’s Spartans on two state championship teams. His funeral is set for Tuesday at First Baptist Church in Roanoke.
Members of Salem High’s football team, wearing the team jerseys, were among the first people to enter the school. WDBJ employees also attended, led by general manager and president Jeffrey Marks and news director Kelly Zuber.
Photos of Ward dotted the halls of the high school as mourners went through the long line.
Ward’s casket was all things Virginia Tech, from which he graduated in 2011 with a degree in communications.
His body was dressed in a Virginia Tech cap and white shirt. A large bouquet of Hokie orange and dark red flowers draped over the casket’s lower end.
Outside, Troutville Elementary School teachers Judy Deel and Rebecca Boone talked at length about their former student. Deel taught Ward in third grade and Boone had him in kindergarten.
“The way that he has been described as an adult is the way he was as a child,” Deel said. “He was vivacious. He was helpful. He was kind. He was giving. He was respectful. And so it was comforting to me to know that the young child I taught in third grade became the man that he was.”
Principal Scott Habeeb said Ward “loved life and he was truly kind to people.” Habeeb was the offensive line coach when Ward played middle school football, was one of his teachers as a high school freshman and was an assistant principal for Ward’s final three years of high school.
Habeeb said Ward wore shorts to school every day “no matter how cold it was. His dad told him he was a ‘knucklehead,’ but he did it anyway. He was fun. But he was genuine.”
Ward’s father is a retired guidance counselor at the school, which Adam chose to attend Salem even though he lived in another district.
Ward and Parker had been on an early morning assignment at Smith Mountain Lake when Vester Lee Flanagan walked up and shot them and Vicki Gardner, a Chamber of Commerce official, with a 9mm Glock pistol during a live interview. Ward and Parker died at the scene and Gardner is recovering in a hospital.
Thousands of viewers across the central Virginia community watched the shooting, and the footage quickly spread to millions on social media. Flanagan shot himself as police pursued his car. He died hours later.
Parker was a rising star at the station and had recently moved in with her boyfriend, WDBJ anchor Chris Hurst.
Ward was engaged to morning show producer Melissa Ott, who had recently gotten a job in Charlotte, North Carolina. She was celebrating her last day working in Roanoke when the shooting happened. Ward and Ott, of Gibbstown, New Jersey, were planning to get married in July 2016.
“Adam, I will never find a man so happy, selfless, protective, funny, or charming like you. You were the one. You understood me. My soulmate. I will always love you. Please watch over me and keep me strong. Enjoy the endless tech games in your heaven. I love you so much,” Ott, who also attended Monday’s reception, wrote in a Facebook post.
Pictures of the couple frequently show them at football games. Even when cheering for Ott’s alma mater, Penn State, pictures show Ward continued to wear a Virginia Tech hat with a Penn State shirt.
In 2013, Ward took a picture of himself donating blood the week of a Virginia Tech football game against arch rival Virginia, noting the blood’s resemblance to one of the school’s official colors.
“Its fact. I bleed chicago maroon. #beatuva,” Ward said in a Tweet.
The only other school that rivaled his love for Virginia Tech was Salem High.
Friends said Ward was especially close with his parents, and he and his father were scheduled to cover Salem High football games for WDBJ on Friday night before the shootings occurred.
“This is not just the loss of a student,” Habeeb said. “This is a loss of a family member because he’s a Spartan. He’s part of us. His father’s part of us.
“It’s heartbreaking. At the same time, we look back and we think about Adam, it was not a life wasted. It was a life well lived.”