ROANOKE, Va. (AP) — Adam Ward was remembered at a reception at his high school for his infectious personality, youthful enthusiasm and rabid love for alma mater Virginia Tech.
On Tuesday, friends and family will say goodbye to the WDBJ-TV cameraman.
The 27-year-old’s funeral will be held at First Baptist Church in Roanoke, a few miles from where he worked.
Ward and WDBJ morning reporter Alison Parker were fatally shot by a former co-worker on live television during an interview last Wednesday.
The funeral will be in contrast to Monday’s visitation, which resembled a celebration at Salem High School, where Ward graduated in 2007. Ward’s parents exchanged greetings, hugs and even a few smiles with many of the well over 1,000 mourners, while upbeat music piped softly into the school auditorium.
Visitors obliged with a request by the family to wear colors of Ward’s favorite teams, Virginia Tech and Salem High. He played football for the high school’s Spartans on state championship teams in 2004 and 2005.
Members of the current team attended Monday’s reception in their uniforms. 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.”
Salem High 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, Charles “Buddy” Ward, is a retired guidance counselor at the school, which Adam chose to attend Salem even though he lived in another district.
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, who also attended Monday’s reception, were planning to get married in July 2016.
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.
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.”
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.