It was a warm June day in Baltimore. The true summer weather hadn’t blown into the city, but around noon, when the sun was high in the sky, even a cooler day could get one sweating. 38-year-old Jarrod Ramos was sweating already, but it wasn’t because of the heat.
Jarrod was sweating because he had something stressful on his mind. He had a difficult and deadly decision to make and when he finally made it, neither his nor the lives of many other people would ever be the same again.
Brought to Account
Jarrod Ramos happened to be holding a backpack with him when he entered the Capital Gazette newsroom. Inside of the bag were smoke bombs, flash-bang devices, and grenades. There was every indication that he had gone to the newsroom to wreak death and havoc upon those people.
Many were injured but six people were killed in the rampage. Columnist Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, assistant editor and weekend columnist, sports reporter John McNamara, sales assistant Rebecca Smith, and Wendi Winters, were all killed that day. The thing of it is, none of them might actually have died in the first place if only people took Ramos’ history of harassment more seriously.
Matter of Time
Ramos was a cold, calculating loner who had some deep-seeded mental health issues. He would become irrationally angry whenever things didn’t go his way and many of his friends and former adversaries were worried that he’d crack. He had seen no fewer than five mental health professionals, which amounted to at least 75 visits before he attacked the Capital Gazette.
History of Harassment
Also, Ramos didn’t just pick the Capital Gazette at random. He’d had a long and well-documented history of harassing several journalists employed by the Baltimore newspaper. One of these many grudges involved a 2012 defamation suit which was thrown out as groundless by the courts.
Gunman in the Newsroom
The incident began at around 2:30 pm. The office of the Capital Gazette was bustling and completely heedless of the madman slowly making his way to the bullpen. Ramos shot through the glass door to the office with a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun and began firing into the crowd.
Ramos opened fire, hitting several of the gathered writers, reporters, and administrators. Then, as people began fleeing in every direction, he proceeded to barricade the rear exit of the office. He hadn’t chosen the Capital Gazette at random, he was there for a reason.
People tried to run and hide but all around them, the newspaper office sounded like a war zone. Even with one lone gunman, there was little else that the trapped workers could do to disarm him. Finally, 65-year-old Wendi Winters, a beat reporter for the Gazette, approached Ramos. What happened next is a matter of some confusion.
Some say that Wendi Winters confronted the gunman, which caused him to stop shooting for a time. Others indicate that the 65-year-old woman charged at the man holding a trash can and recycling bin and that he was distracted long enough for everyone else to escape. Meanwhile, police evacuated 170 people from the building.
Anne Arundel County Police arrived within one minute, though it presumably felt much longer to the survivors. Many of the injured newspaper employees were taken to a local medical center. When the officers arrived on the scene, they saw Ramos hiding under a desk.
Ramos was identified by his face on the surveillance footage but refused to identify himself to police upon capture. Properly identifying him proved hard to do at first because, according to some witnesses, Ramos’ fingers were mutilated and he had no fingerprints. While this was eventually disproved by the police, it added an air of mystery to the already dramatic tale.
It wasn’t until many days after the shooting that police recognized that an error might have been made. Ramos had apparently sent three threatening letters before the day of the attack. One of those letters indicated, in no uncertain times, that he was on his way to the Capital Gazette to “kill as many people” as he could.
Come to Light
The letters didn’t come to light until later after the shooting had occurred and Sgt. Jacklyn Davis, a spokeswoman for Anne Arundel County police, made the announcement. Tom Marquardt, the onetime publisher of the Capital Gazette, knew of other letters months beforehand.
In that previous letter, he was talking to the appeals court judge, suggesting that they didn’t do a good job and insinuating that if he wanted vengeance, he’d have to get it a different way. The indication here is that he may have been planning the shooting weeks or even months before it happened.
Marquardt had been worried about Ramos’ retribution for years. He said he once slept with a baseball bat by his bed because he was so worried Ramos might break-in and attack him. The newspaper was also aware of Ramos’ state of mind and stepped up security a few years before the shooting.
There were also other letters predating even that; incidents that indicated Ramos’ state of mind long before the first shots were fired. In 2009, a former classmate took out peace orders and eventually criminal harassment charges against Ramos. He said he was physically afraid of Ramos becoming violent.
Went Away or Fuming
As an additional precaution, the Gazette posted Ramos’ picture around the office as well. Two years passed without a peep from Ramos. They believed that he’d just gotten over his vendetta. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Ramos was biding his time for the perfect opportunity to return to the newspaper.
Ramos has yet to be tried for the five murders and while they may seem pre-meditated on the surface, it remains to be seen if he will serve time. Being that they caught him on camera, at the scene, with the gun, and having a vendetta against the victims, it seems like a pretty cut-and-dry case.
Important to Remember
Hindsight is 20/20, however, and it appears that the Capital Gazette did everything they could to try and protect their people from Ramos’ instability. Meanwhile, Rob Hiaasen, Gerald Fischman, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith, and brave Wendi Winters will all be remembered for the impact they made in their lives.
Celebration of Life
Recently, their family and friends celebrated their lives with a ceremony of sorts. The gathering crowd of more than 500 people laughed and cried as people shared stories, poems, prayers, and songs, celebrating the fallen reporters. They focused on the victims, not the killer, and that seems as good a way to close out as any.
Big Man, Big Heart
Hannah Hiaasen, Rob’s youngest daughter was in attendance to read a poem she wrote in her dad’s honor. She said that they all called the former assistant manager “Big Rob” because he was 6-foot-5. She added that the nickname also referred to his really big heart as well.