When the Press Becomes the Story

A man with a grudge against the Annapolis Capital Gazette killed five people in the newsroom.

Mass shootings have become all too common in America. Yesterday’s was different because the victims are in the business of reporting the news. Indeed, the Annapolis Capital Gazette put out a paper today, reporting on their own tragedy:

Five dead in ‘targeted attack’ at Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, police say; Laurel man charged with murder

A gunman blasted his way into the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis with a shotgun Thursday afternoon, killing five people, authorities said.

Journalists dived under their desks and pleaded for help on social media. One reporter described the scene as a “war zone.” A photographer said he jumped over a dead colleague and fled for his life.

The victims were identified as Rob Hiaasen, 59, a former feature writer for The Baltimore Sun who joined the Capital Gazette in 2010 as an assistant editor and columnist; Wendi Winters, 65, a community correspondent who headed special publications; Gerald Fischman, 61, the editorial page editor; John McNamara, 56, a staff writer who had covered high school, college and professional sports for decades; and Rebecca Smith, 34, a sales assistant hired in November.

Two others were injured in the attack that began about 2:40 p.m. at the Capital Gazette offices at 888 Bestgate Road in Annapolis.

Police took a suspect into custody soon after the shootings. He was identified as Jarrod W. Ramos, a 38-year-old Laurel man with a long-standing grudge against the paper.

Ramos was charged with five counts of first-degree murder, according to online court records. He did not have an attorney listed; a bail review hearing is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Friday in Annapolis.

“This was a targeted attack on the Capital Gazette,” said Anne Arundel County Deputy Police Chief William Krampf. “This person was prepared today to come in. He was prepared to shoot people.”

[…]

Ramos’ dispute with the Capital Gazette began in July 2011 when a columnist wrote about a criminal harassment case against him. He brought a defamation suit against the columnist and the organization’s editor and publisher. A court ruled in the Capital Gazette’s favor, and an appeals court upheld the ruling.

Neither the columnist, Eric Hartley, nor the editor and publisher, Thomas Marquardt, are still employed by the Capital Gazette. They were not present during the shootings.

The detachment is almost surreal. Finally, very deep in the story, we get this:

Phil Davis, a Capital crime reporter who was in the building at the time of the shooting, said multiple people were shot as he and others hid under their desks. He said there was a single male gunman.

“Gunman shot through the glass door to the office and opened fire on multiple employees,” he wrote on Twitter. “Can’t say much more and don’t want to declare anyone dead, but it’s bad.”

“There is nothing more terrifying than hearing multiple people get shot while you’re under your desk and then hear the gunman reload.”

Davis later told The Sun said it “was like a war zone” — a scene that would be “hard to describe for a while.”

“I’m a police reporter. I write about this stuff — not necessarily to this extent, but shootings and death — all the time,” he said. “But as much as I’m going to try to articulate how traumatizing it is to be hiding under your desk, you don’t know until you’re there and you feel helpless.”

Davis said he and others were hiding under their desks when the shooter stopped firing. Then police arrived and surrounded the shooter.

Photographer Paul Gillespie had finished editing photos from one assignment and was preparing for the next when he heard shots behind him and the newsroom’s glass doors shatter.

He heard another shot, he said, dived under a co-worker’s desk “and curled up as small as I could.”

“I dove under that desk as fast as I could, and by the grace of God, he didn’t look over there,” he said. “I was curled up, trying not to breathe, trying not to make a sound, and he shot people all around me.”

Indeed, I first learned of the attack from Twitter, as Davis’ observations went viral almost immediately.

Yet, as with the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the ethos of the business requires pressing forward: there’s a deadline to make.

‘We are putting out a damn paper tomorrow’: Capital Gazette journalists report on shooting in their own newsroom

From the moment gunfire rang out at the Capital Gazette newsroom, journalists there began covering their own tragedy.

An intern at the Annapolis paper tweeted at 2:43 p.m. Thursday that there was an active shooter in the building, located at 888 Bestgate Road.

“Please help us,” Anthony Messenger wrote.

Staff members who were not in the newsroom rushed toward the building, not yet knowing that five of their colleagues had been killed. And once they got the news, they continued to seek information on what led to the deaths of their coworkers and friends.

From outside, Capital photographer Joshua McKerrow took photos of the massive police presence that enveloped the building, which also houses more than two dozen other businesses.

“Police response for shooting in my newsroom,” he posted as a photo caption on Twitter.

And reporter Phil Davis — once he was evacuated from the newsroom — provided the most detailed account of the massacre he witnessed. His words would end up woven into an article on his newspaper’s website, a place his name typically only appears as a byline.

[…]

Hours after the shooting, Capital reporters promised to continue covering their story.

“I can tell you this,” reporter Chase Cook tweeted. “We are putting out a damn paper tomorrow.”

And, obviously, they did. With a lot of help, judging by these two stories, from colleagues at the Baltimore Sun, which is under the same ownership. Here’s the front page:

The Sun also put out a series of obituaries for those murdered yesterday.

Capital Gazette shooting victim Rob Hiaasen: A joyful stylist, a generous mentor

Capital Gazette shooting victim John McNamara: Sports reporting was his dream job

Capital Gazette shooting victim Wendi Winters: A prolific writer who chronicled her community

Capital Gazette shooting victim Gerald Fischman: Clever and quirky voice of a community newspaper

Capital Gazette shooting victim Rebecca Smith: Recent hire loved spending time with family

The Orlando Sun-Sentinal also put out a piece on Hiaasen’s death because of their own connection to the story:

South Florida’s Rob Hiaasen, novelist Carl Hiaasen’s brother, killed in newsroom shooting

Novelist and Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen’s brother was among those killed Thursday in a newsroom shooting in Annapolis, Maryland, his family confirmed.

Rob Hiaasen was assistant managing editor and a columnist at The Capital newspaper where he was hired in 2010. He was 59.

“There was no finer human being, there just wasn’t,” Rob Hiaasen’s widow, Maria, said Thursday night, her 58th birthday. “And certainly no finer father, and he was a damn fine journalist too.”

A birthday package from her husband still awaited her, Maria Hiaasen said. Rob Hiaasen had asked her if she wanted to open her gift Thursday morning, but she told him she’d rather wait until he got home from work.

He never made it back home. The shooting on the first-floor of the newspaper’s building occurred at about 2:40 p.m. The couple had celebrated their 33rd wedding anniversary six days earlier.

This tragedy will, inevitably, spark more discussion on the gun control debate. Rather than clog this thread up with that, I have a separate post on that issue, “The Annapolis Shooting and the Gun Debate.”

FILED UNDER: Guns and Gun Control, Media
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. MarkedMan says:

    This was close by me. I pass that building several times a week. The Capital Gazette is a small enterprise. It is a little bigger than might be expected in a town the size of Annapolis because it’s the state capital but still, five people must be a significant portion of its staff.

  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    A birthday package from her husband still awaited her, Maria Hiaasen said. Rob Hiaasen had asked her if she wanted to open her gift Thursday morning, but she told him she’d rather wait until he got home from work.

    He never made it back home.

    A reminder to always give your loved ones an extra squeeze at goodbyes because there is always a last parting but you never know when it will come.

  3. CSK says:

    @MarkedMan:

    It’s a pretty decent-sized operation: http://www.capitalgazette.com/about/cg-contact-us-20140708-htmlstory.html

    The names of the dead are still listed.

  4. Kathy says:

    Like the gods of old, the NRA requires the blood of human sacrifice to be satisfied.

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  5. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Kathy:

    I’m reminded of those protestors who gathered outside of their headquarters, channeling the 60s via “Hey, hey, NRA, how many folks did you kill today?”

    The bottom line is that too many Americans value guns more than they value lives other than their own. This is not so much a issue of broken policy – although policy with respect to guns is fundamentally broken. It’s an issue of a broken society. I’m not sure that one can be fixed.

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  6. Kathy says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    For one thing, in a sick society that offers ready access to guns, threats ought to be taken much more seriously. Hell, they should be taken seriously.

    Begin by criminalizing threats of force or violence. These should be grounds for denying people the right to buy or keep guns.

  7. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Kathy:

    These should be grounds for denying people the right to buy or keep guns.

    No argument. I noted as much on the other thread when I said that dealing with this problem is going to unavoidably involve weakening civil liberties. This was – in large part – the sort of thing I was referring to.

    Current policy makes it fairly difficult to disarm someone. I’d go so far as to say that, in many cases, it makes it effectively impossible. To begin to address the problem, that has to change.

    But, as I noted above, it’s an uphill battle. It may well be – and in my opinion probably is – impossible to achieve. A large segment of America has essentially decided that it loves guns more than it loves other people. You’ll get them, and the civil liberties uber alles nuts, and a host of other affiliated extremists freaking out in opposition. The collective will required to solve the problem doesn’t exist. The society itself is just broken.

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  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    Every gun represents a possible homicide, suicide or manslaughter. The more guns the more homicides, suicides and manslaughters. This is not about mental health, that’s just a big red herring the NRA tosses out because they know liberals love medicalizing things, but given the impossibility of identifying and treating these supposedly mentally ill people it’s like saying we’d all be better looking if only there was no gravity. True, but totally irrelevant.

    A crazy person armed with a knife is bad, a crazy person armed with a gun is infinitely worse. We’ve decided to arm our crazy people with guns. Every country has crazy people, they don’t all have our murder rate. It’s the guns, stupid.

  9. dazedandconfused says:

    Read Twain’s “Roughing it” a few months ago. I contains the reason why Sam Clemons felt the need for a pen name: A gig as a reporter in one of Nevada’s silver mining towns.