The on-air shooting deaths of a TV news crew rattled the nation Wednesday, and it hit close to the B.A.S.S. family. One of the people shot, Vicki Gardner, has worked closely with B.A.S.S. at several tournaments on Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia.
Gardner, executive director of the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce, was being interviewed live on WDBJ-TV when a gunman shot her, reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward.
Parker and Ward died from the shooting by former co-worker Vester Flanagan, who later shot himself and died. Gardner was taken to Carilion Memorial Hospital in Roanake, Va., and after surgery is reported in stable condition.
Called “the face of Smith Mountain,” Gardner has made addresses to anglers at Bassmaster events at Smith Mountain Lake.
“It just breaks our hearts,” said Michael Mulone, B.A.S.S. Event Partnerships director. “We feel a personal connection to the communities we visit.”
The scene of the shooting is familiar to many in B.A.S.S., which has been there as recently as 2012 for a college event. Banners for the Elite events in 2010 and 2009 hung on the railing where the live interview was being conducted for the early Wednesday news program. Elite anglers had walked where blood was spilled. Mulone said his head has been spinning all day.
“We weighed in right there at Bridgewater Plaza,” he said. “This is a place that we have good relationships with, and they’ve welcomed us to their community. We feel a connection to them and our hearts go out to them.”
Brody Brent Broderick has spent the day stunned. The former Elite angler, who left the circuit due to injury, has a personal connection to Gardner. He said he was in shock when he first saw the news report.
“I remembered her face on TV when they were showing it,” Broderick said. “I didn’t remember her name. I was like, ‘Oh my god, I know that women! I know that dock.’ We weighed in right there. We parked our boats there.
“I’ve just been kind of freaked out about it. To see that wood. If you’ve ever been to that marina, there’s all this old rustic wood. There’s a bar up there. We all drank in it. There were people all lined up on that balcony where they were shot. There were banners up there. She stood up and addressed us with the mayor.”
Broderick said his father had a heart attack while he was fishing the Pickwick Elite during his rookie season in 2009 then passed away during the Elites’ visit to Smith Mountain. B.A.S.S. made an announcement at blastoff, Broderick recalls, as the sun rose over the horizon.
“Coming into the Smith Mountain event, everybody knew about it,” he said. “She knew about it. When I came back in, she was one of the first people who went out of her way to check on me.”
Broderick said he’s had an introspective day, wondering how something so horrific could happen. He sent his sympathies to the reporter and cameraman killed, their families and the community. He had a hard time thinking about someone he actually knew being shot in such manner.
“It’s just so weird,” he said, recalling more about Gardner. “She had two workers with her. They made up bags for all the anglers. We always get a goodie bag at tournaments, but Smith Mountain was different. They gave us really cool stuff. I specifically remember that.”
Gardner was quoted in stories before Elite events, telling the area readers the circuit “is the best of the best. They have a following. This is a massive sport. The economic impact is tremendous.”