Journalists dove under their desks and pleaded for help on social media. One reporter described the scene 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 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 covered high school, college and professional sports for decades; and Rebecca Smith, 34, a sales assistant hired in November.
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 longstanding grudge against the paper.
“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.”
Local, state and federal law enforcement officials cordoned off the Laurel apartment complex listed as the address for Ramos, whose dispute with the Capital began in July 2011 when a columnist at the paper covered a criminal harassment case against him. In 2012, Ramos brought a defamation suit against the columnist and the paper’s former editor and publisher, but Maryland’s second-highest court upheld in 2015 a ruling in favor of the Capital and a former reporter who were accused by Ramos of defamation.
Police said the suspect, who was taken into custody without any shots being fired by officers, had used “smoke grenades” in the building, located at 888 Bestgate Road. About 170 people were inside at the time of the shooting, they said.
Phil Davis, a Capital crime reporter who was in the building at the time of the shooting, said multiple people were shot, as others — himself included — hid under their desks. He said there was a lone male gunman.
“Gunman shot through the glass door to the office and opened fire on multiple employees. Can’t say much more and don’t want to declare anyone dead, but it’s bad,” Davis wrote on Twitter as he waited to be interviewed by police.
“There is nothing more terrifying than hearing multiple people get shot while you’re under your desk and then hear the gunman reload.”
In a subsequent interview, Davis said it “was like a war zone” inside the newspaper’s offices — a situation 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 still hiding under their desks when the shooter stopped firing. Police then arrived and surrounded the shooter, Davis said.
Paul Gillespie, a staff photographer, had just 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. Another shot, and Gillespie dove under a co-worker’s desk “and curled up as small as I could,” he said.
“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.”
Gillespie said he heard one colleague scream “No!,” then a shot, then another colleague’s voice, and then another shot. Then came the sound of the gunman getting closer to where he was hiding, Gillespie said.
“I kept thinking, ‘I can’t believe I’m going to die. I can’t believe this.’” Gillespie said.
Instead, the gunman passed him, continuing to shoot, he said. Eventually, there was a lull in the shots, and Gillespie said he stood and ran for the exit, through the shattered glass, jumping over a colleague who he believed was dead as another shot rang out in his direction. Once outside, he ran to a nearby bank, where he screamed for people to call the cops.
“I feel like I should be helping to cover it,” he said of the shooting, “but I’m a mess.”
Authorities said police responded to the scene within a minute of the shooting. “If they were not there as quickly as they were it could have been a lot worse,” Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley said.
Officials at Maryland Shock Trauma Center confirmed the hospital was treating at least one victim. County Executive Steve Schuh said others were being treated at Anne Arundel Medical Center. Loren Farquhar, a medical center spokeswoman, said the hospital received two patients, both with minor injuries not from gunfire. One was discharged and another is expected to be discharged soon, she said.
Renee Mutchnik, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore Sun Media Group, said the company was “deeply saddened” by the shooting.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with our colleagues and their families,” she said. “Our immediate focus is on providing support and resources for all our employees and cooperating with the authorities as this situation is still under investigation.”
Agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were on the scene in Annapolis to provide support to local law enforcement, said Amanda Hils, a spokeswoman for the federal agency.
President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter that he had been briefed on the shooting. “My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. Thank you to all of the First Responders who are currently on the scene,” Trump wrote.
Josh McKerrow, a photographer for 14 years at the Capital, had covered Induction Day at the Naval Academy at sunrise Thursday. He was driving home to celebrate his daughter’s birthday when Capital editor Rick Hutzell called him from out of town.
“He said he’d heard there had been a shooting, and he couldn’t get in touch with anyone in the newsroom,” McKerrow said. Then he heard sirens. “My heart sank and I knew.”
Police in SWAT gear and with assault rifles cordoned off the area around the newsroom and shutdown Bestgate Road. Outside the police tape, McKerrow and reporter Chase Cook called and texted their friends and colleagues, trying to get answers.
Jimmy DeButts, an editor at the Capital, wrote on Twitter that he was “devastated and heartbroken.” He said he could not speak about the shooting, but praised the work of his newspaper.
“There are no 40 hour weeks, no big paydays — just a passion for telling stories from our community,” DeButts wrote. “We keep doing more with less. We find ways to cover high school sports, breaking news, tax hikes, school budgets & local entertainment. We are there in times of tragedy. We do our best to share the stories of people, those who make our community better. Please understand, we do all this to serve our community.”
Gov. Larry Hogan, on Twitter, wrote, “Absolutely devastated to learn of this tragedy in Annapolis.” He said he was in contact with Schuh, and that Maryland State Police were on the scene assisting county police.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch has represented Annapolis since 1987 and said the Capital is “the voice of the community.”
Even with a shrinking staff, Busch said, “they knew the pulse of the community and had a lot of influence on what took place.
“This is a shocker,” Busch said. “Over the years, a lot of these people become friends. They do their job, you do your job, and you respect them for it. A lot of good writers have come out of there.”
The Capital is not the only business in the building where the shooting occurred. There are 30 tenants in the building, including five others on the first floor with the Capital. They include accountants, lawyers, financial and medical offices. The newspaper has been in the building since 2015, according to CoStar, a real estate information company.
* * *
Sources identify suspect in Md. shooting as Jarrod Ramos, who had feud with paper
BALTIMORE — A Laurel man with a long-running feud with the Capital Gazette newspaper is being held as the suspect in the deadly shooting at the Annapolis newspaper Thursday, according to law enforcement sources.
Police and federal agents gathered late Thursday outside the address of 38-year-old Jarrod W. Ramos. Rich McLaughlin, chief of the Laurel Police Department, said his officers were there as part of the investigation into the shooting at the newspaper, and other sources identified Ramos as the suspect.
In 2012, Ramos filed a defamation lawsuit against the paper and a columnist over a July 2011 story that covered a criminal harassment case against him.
He brought the suit against the columnist, Eric Hartley, naming Capital Gazette Communications and Thomas Marquardt, the paper’s former editor and publisher, as defendants.
A Twitter page in Ramos’ name on Thursday featured Hartley’s picture as its avatar, and a banner image included photographs of Marquardt and the Capital’s former owner Philip Merrill.
The page’s bio read: “Dear reader: I created this page to defend myself. Now I’m suing the s--- out of half of AA County and making corpses of corrupt careers and corporate entities.”
The account regularly commented on Anne Arundel County news and referenced a deadly shooting at French newspaper in 2015.
The account had been dormant since January 2016. Then at 2:37 p.m. Thursday — moments before the Capital Gazette shooting — the account posted a message that read: “F--- you, leave me alone.”
(The Baltimore Sun’s Scott Dance, Doug Donovan, Tim Prudente, Justin Fenton, Erin Cox, Jessica Anderson and Meredith Cohn contributed to this article.)
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