Terrified employees at a Maryland newspaper threw themselves under their desks when a shotgun-wielding maniac with a grudge against the outlet stormed their office and opened fire Thursday, killing five people and wounding two others in what authorities and witnesses described as a “targeted attack.”
The suspect, identified as Jarrod Ramos, was arrested minutes after detonating smoke grenades and unloading a barrage of bullets inside the Capital Gazette’s Annapolis newsroom around 3:15 p.m., acting Anne Arundel County Police Chief William Krampf said.
“This person was prepared to shoot people. His intent was to cause harm,” Krampf told reporters at the scene.
Ramos, 38, is a Maryland resident with a long-running beef against the Gazette over a story it published about him in 2011, according to public records. He was being interrogated by cops late Thursday, Krampf said.
A source familiar with the investigation confirmed Ramos’ identity to the Daily News.
The suspected gunman unsuccessfully tried to sue the Gazette for defamation over a July 31, 2011 story about his pleading guilty to criminal harassment for stalking a woman he went to high school with.
Ramos pestered the woman with threatening direct messages and emails, once telling her to “have another drink and go hang” herself, according to court papers.
He only stopped after the woman pressed charges.
Ramos then turned his ire to the Gazette after it published the unflattering news item, filing his long-shot lawsuit and trashing the paper’s reporters and editors over social media.
Just minutes before the newsroom massacre, Ramos tweeted “f–k you, leave me alone,” followed by the name of a Maryland judge who wrote an unreported opinion on his case. A source confirmed the authenticity of Ramos’ Twitter handle to The News.
William Shirley, an attorney who defended Eric Hartley, one of the Gazette reporters named in Ramos’ defamation suit, recalled the suspected shooter as having “a simmering anger about him that would bubble over.”
“I remember at one point he was talking in a motion and somehow worked in how he wanted to smash Hartley’s face into the concrete,” Shirley told The News over the phone. “We were concerned at the time. He was not stable.”
Ramos went to disturbing lengths to conceal his identity ahead of Thursday’s attack — including mutilating his own fingertips, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press. Authorities were able to identify him using facial recognition technology, the source said.
Police identified the victims as Gazette assistant managing editor Rob Hiaasen, 59, community news reporter Wendi Winters, 64; editorial page editor Gerald Fischman, 61; senior writer John McNamara, 56; and recently hired sales assistant Rebecca Smith, 34.
The newspaper published heartfelt obituaries Thursday night for each of the five victims.
“No words can adequately express our sadness,” said Justin Dearborn, the CEO of tronc, which owns the Gazette, the Sun, and The News.
Two others wounded in the attack suffered “superficial” wounds, likely from crushed glass, Krampf said. Both were expected to survive.
Phil Davis, a crime reporter for the Gazette, described the carnage at his workplace in a string of chilling tweets.
“Gunman shot through the glass door to the office and opened fire on multiple employees,” Davis posted. “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 with the Baltimore Sun, the Gazette’s parent publication, Davis likened his workplace to a “war zone.”
“I’m a police reporter. I write about this stuff, not necessarily to this extent, but shootings and death, all the time,” Davis 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 his colleagues were still hiding under their desks when the shooter stopped firing. “I don’t know why. I don’t know why he stopped,” he said.
Moments later, cops descended on the newsroom and surrounded the suspect before cuffing him, Davis said.
About 170 people were evacuated from the building as local officers and federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives converged on the scene. People could be seen leaving the building with their hands up.
The Gazette, one of the oldest newspapers in the U.S., was first printed in 1727.
Gazette editor Jimmy DeButts said he was “heartbroken” after the shooting, and asked journalists to refrain from asking him for interviews.
“I’m in no position to speak,” DeButts tweeted, “just know (Gazette) reporters & editors give all they have every day. There are no 40-hour weeks, no big paydays — just a passion for telling stories from our community.”
“We called him Big Rob because he was so tall, but it was his remarkable heart and humor that made him larger than all of us.”
President Trump, who is infamous for trashing journalists over Twitter — and has even called journalists the “enemy of the people” — said he was briefed on the newsroom shooting before departing from Wisconsin, where he gave a speech earlier in the day.
“My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families,” Trump tweeted. “Thank you to all of the First Responders who are currently on the scene.”
Trump’s press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, took an unusually sympathetic tone toward journalists in the wake of the shooting.
“A violent attack on innocent journalists doing their job is an attack on every American,” Sanders tweeted.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said he was “terribly saddened” by the “heinous” attack.
“The Capital Gazette is my hometown paper, and I have the greatest respect for the fine journalists, and all the men and women, who work there,” Hogan said. “There is no place in our society for this kind of hatred and violence.”
Hiaasen’s brother, famed novelist and columnist Carl Hiaasen, said he was “devastated and heartsick” over the news.
“Rob was an editor and columnist at the paper, and one of the most gentle and funny people I’ve ever known. He spent his whole gifted career as a journalist, and he believed profoundly in the craft and mission of serving the public’s right to know the news,” he wrote on Facebook.
The NYPD deployed counterterrorism teams to several newsrooms in the city on Thursday afternoon, in a move police said was prompted not by any particular threat but an abundance of caution.
The Maryland newsroom massacre left Virginia state delegate Chris Hurst with an unsettling sensation of deja vu.
The Democratic former journalist’s late girlfriend, TV reporter Alison Parker, was shot to death while on the air in 2015.
“The threat to journalists is real and became deadly once more today in Annapolis,” Hurst tweeted. “I left my newsroom to create policies to prevent more workplace violence. The scourge must end.”
With Nancy Dillon
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