Editor’s Note: In January 2023, families of victims and some of the survivors of the 2018 Capital Gazette newsroom shooting dismissed a wrongful death and negligence lawsuit after reaching a settlement agreement. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is updating its Assault category documentation to include the five journalists who were plaintiffs in the suit and present during the attack. Four journalists and one newsroom employee were killed.
Crime reporter Phil Davis was working in the Capital Gazette offices on June 28, 2018, when a man armed with a shotgun entered the newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland, and shot multiple newspaper employees.
Davis wrote on Twitter just over an hour after the shooting that a single gunman shot through the glass door to the office and opened fire on employees while he and others hid under their desks.
“There is nothing more terrifying than hearing multiple people get shot while you’re under your desk and then hear the gunman reload,” Davis wrote.
Davis testified that he texted a police sergeant — one of his sources — asking for help and that there was a shooting in the newsroom, according to The Washington Post.
He told The Baltimore Sun that the newsroom was like 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.”
The gunman called police at 2:38 p.m., saying that he was done shooting and that he would surrender, according to Maryland Matters. Officers entered the Capital Gazette offices at 2:44 p.m.
Of the 11 Capital Gazette employees in the newsroom during the shooting, five were killed and two injured. All journalists killed in or present for the attack are documented in the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker’s Assault category.
The ground-floor newsroom of the Capital Gazette was home to reporters for both The Capital, a daily newspaper covering Annapolis, and The Maryland Gazette, a twice-weekly paper focused on state news. The shooting was the deadliest single attack on journalists in United States history, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
The gunman was convicted on 23 counts in July 2021, the Capital Gazette reported. He was sentenced on Sept. 28, 2021, to six life sentences — five without the possibility of parole — plus 345 years in prison, all to be served consecutively.
In announcing the sentence, Judge Michael Wachs said the defendant was getting what he deserved. “To say the defendant showed a callous and cruel disregard for the sanctity of human life is simply an understatement,” Wachs said.
In June 2021, the families of victims and five of the six survivors filed lawsuits against the Sun and Tribune Publishing, the Associated Press reported. (The Capital was purchased by Baltimore Sun Media, a subsidiary of Tribune Publishing, in 2014.)
The suits — one for wrongful death, the other for negligence — both argued that the shooting was preventable. The negligence lawsuit said that if “reasonable steps” had been taken, the gunman “would have been detected and stopped prior to entering The Capital’s newsroom, and he may never have attempted the assault at all.” The cases were consolidated in early 2022, according to the AP.
The parties reached a settlement agreement and filed a joint motion for dismissal on Jan. 3, 2023. Davis confirmed to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that the details of the settlement are confidential. He said he discourages the idea that the end of the lawsuit equals closure.
“Everyone wants closure, because closure is what makes everything easier to understand. It gives people a way to endnote things,” Davis said. “I hope people realize that it doesn’t create a new chapter for anyone.”