One year ago — June 28, 2018 — the unthinkable happened for those of us in the newspaper business.
That afternoon in Annapolis, just about the time here in Southern Maryland our Friday papers were being sent to press, five people working at the daily Capital Gazette newspaper were killed, and two others were wounded, when a lone gunman with a long-standing grudge against the paper opened fire. Police and first responders were there within 60 seconds, reports say, and may have helped prevent further mayhem.
But for the five people who had come to work that day with their regular, routine intention of squeezing out the next edition, it was too late.
When you think of journalists dying in the line of duty, you might picture war correspondents perishing in some far-flung country. You certainly don’t picture them being shot and dying in their newsroom. In Maryland.
At the Maryland Independent, we mourned the loss of these fine professional newspaper people, our colleagues as fellow members of the Maryland-Delaware-DC press group. As happens in every field of endeavor, friendships and acquaintances intersect as we follow the arcs of each other’s careers. A few staff members here and throughout Southern Maryland at one time worked with or went to school with several of those five Capital Gazette workers who were killed.
• Gerald Fischman, 61, was the editorial page editor.
• Rob Hiaasen, 59, was an assistant editor and Sunday columnist.
• John McNamara, 56, was a reporter who covered news and sports, and also did page design as a jack-of-all-trades professional.
• Rebecca Smith, 34, was a sales assistant who had worked at the paper for only about a year.
• Wendi Winters, 65, was an editor and community column writer.
The senseless bloodshed at the Capital Gazette was the 154th mass shooting in the United States at that point in 2018. There would eventually be 323 last year, with 1,274 total dead and wounded.
Sadly, Southern Maryland is no stranger to such awful incidents. Just three months before the Capital Gazette tragedy, a shooting at Great Mills High School left two students dead (including the shooter), a third wounded, and the St. Mary’s community shocked and devastated.
Immediately after the Annapolis shootings last June, the discussion of guns — who should have them, who shouldn’t — resurfaced into public discussion with great fervor. But the General Assembly convened and adjourned earlier this year with only limited movement on the issue.
But this story is not about the Second Amendment. It’s about the First Amendment. Freedom of the press. Courage of the press. Determination of the press.
Because you see, even in the midst of such profound shock and tragedy, that newspaper did what newspapers do: It reported the facts, even under such duress, and put out the next day’s edition.
The alleged shooter, 39-year-old Jarrod Ramos of Laurel, acted alone. He had made threats to The Capital Gazette ever since it reported in 2011 that he was convicted of stalking a woman he met online. A defamation suit by Ramos against the paper in 2012 was thrown out by a judge, on the obvious grounds that what the paper had printed was true. Ramos is set to stand trial in November for five counts of first-degree murder, among other charges.
In this day and age, when the press has been called “the enemy of the people” by no less than the current occupant of the White House, the Annapolis shooting has had some lasting effects. Many of our APG Media of Chesapeake newspaper offices have ratcheted up security, keeping doors locked to protect our employees and our customers as well.
But we’re still open for business every day, and we welcome your patronage and friendship as a member of this community.
So as we remember our five colleagues who died a year ago in Annapolis, be reminded that we are steadfast in our mission to serve you. We chronicle your lives and times. We speak truth to power. And we answer to you. May a free and professional press continue to thrive, in print and online.