Chris Hurst knows what it is to have someone special ripped away by bullets. The former reporter’s girlfriend was gunned down on live television along with a colleague. Now, Hurst has taken that pain and used it to power a run for elected office - and a win.
In 2015, 24-year-old Alison Parker and 27-year-old Adam Ward were interviewing the leader of the local chamber of commerce for Virginia news station WDBJ. During the live interview, a man walked up to Parker, pointed a handgun at her chest, and fired eight times before turning the gun on the others. He filmed himself and posted video of the shooting on social media, and the shooting was caught on live television at the same time, reported NBC News.
Parker and Ward were killed, and the gunman, a former employee of the station named Vester Lee Flanagan, shot himself hours later, reported USA Today.
Hurst, another reporter at the station, had been dating Parker for nine months when she was killed, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported. They had moved in together and had been thinking about getting married.
In February of 2017, Hurst resigned from his position as a news anchor on WDBJ to run as a Democratic candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates’ 12th District, reported The Guardian. “In 2015, I was just beginning a new life with my late girlfriend, Alison Parker. Alison and Adam Ward’s murder on television shocked the country and set me on a different path. My career in news was fulfilling but instead of asking questions, I became focused on finding solutions,” he wrote on his website.
Hurst said the race would help him move away from an environment that still brought back bad memories. “I’ll be able to develop some different routines that (are) not a constant reminder of some of the emotional pain that I have been having to face over the past year and a half,” Hurst told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
And although the tragic back-story thrust him into a national spotlight, Hurst consistently urged that gun control was not the main focus of his campaign, and has openly bristled against some of the more aggressive gun control propositions. On his campaign website’s “Issues” section, preventing gun violence is close to the bottom of page.
“We must change the way we address the thousands of Virginians who die each year by bullets from guns. I think we do that by realizing this is a public health crisis because more people in the commonwealth die from gun violence than in car crashes,” Hurst wrote on the campaign website. “As someone who has been personally touched by this issue, I will take the same objective, pragmatic approach to investigating solutions as I had when I worked as a journalist.”
Hurst told The Guardian he was interested in things like temporary restrictions on gun ownership and narrow policies to curb the risk of violence among those most likely to commit violence.
“What I care about most is trying to reduce the number of people who die with a gun, whether it’s homicide or suicide. The last thing I would want to do is to try to change someone’s culture or their way of life,” he told The Guardian.
His campaign focused less on gun policy and more on things like education and health care expansion, reported the Huffington Post.
His platform worked. Hurst defeated Yost on Tuesday, taking 54 percent of the vote, reported CNN. The upset victory made international news, though Hurst seems dedicated to keeping the focus on his local community.
At a victory speech on Tuesday evening, Hurst thanked voters and said it was a time of tremendous opportunity for his district.
“Now the possibilities are unlimited and it's time to identify what the common priorities really, truly are with this new dynamic, politically, now in the Commonwealth, and then go achieve results that actually give tangible, positive benefits to people's lives,” he said, reported WDBJ, his former station.
As for Parker, Hurst told the station he thought she would have been proud of him. “She would have immediately started to bend my ear about making sure that this seat belongs to the people of this District, it does not belong to me,” he said.