Salem High School in Salem, Virginia, will open its doors to the community Monday to commemorate the life of an alumnus — Adam Ward, the 27-year-old cameraman for a Roanoke television station who was slain on live TV last week.
The family of Ward, a 2007 graduate of the school, has asked visitors to wear colors of his favorite teams, Virginia Tech and Salem High, where he played football for the Spartans on two state championship teams. His funeral is set for Tuesday at First Baptist Church in Roanoke.
"He was truly a Salem Spartan, born and bred. From childhood, he loved Salem sports, especially football," his obituary says. Ward's father, Charles, is a guidance counselor at the school, which Adam chose to attend even though he lived in another district.
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The Ward family has stayed out of the spotlight since Wednesday when he and reporter Alison Parker were gunned down by a former co-worker. Ward and Parker were on an early morning assignment for WDBJ-TV 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.
The shootings occurred as thousands of viewers across the central Virginia community watched and the footage quickly spread to millions on social media. Flanagan shot himself as police pursued his car. He died hours later.
Tributes to Parker and Ward quickly poured in on social media as heart-breaking details of their personal lives that were filled with so much promise came to light. Parker was considered 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 wrote in a Facebook post.
Pictures of the couple frequently show them at football games, which Ward loved to attend when he wasn't playing tennis. 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.
Ward's obituary notes that he didn't even need clothing to show his Hokie pride. He graduated from Virginia Tech in 2011 with a degree in communication.
"Adam was the one with the painted chest in 20 degree weather screaming the loudest from the end zone," his obituary says.
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 have described Ward as 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.
"I don't know if there has ever been another person who better embodied what it meant to be a Spartan than Adam Ward. To know him was truly to love him. His smile was the brightest; his heart was the biggest; his enthusiasm was the most contagious; his work was the hardest. Adam was without a doubt the easiest-to-like kid who ever walked the halls of SHS," Salem High School Principal Scott Habeeb wrote on Facebook.