- Published On
- May 3, 2023
- Written by
- Stephanie Sugars from Freedom of the Press Foundation
Fireworks or a vase breaking. It took a moment to register that the glass doors to the newsroom had been shattered by a shotgun blast.
Editor’s Note: In the immediate aftermath of a gunman’s attack on the Capital Gazette newsroom in 2018, the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker published a single article about it in our Assault category. Later, we published individual Assault articles for each of the four journalists killed during the shooting to more precisely capture the event. In January 2023, victims’ families and some survivors settled legal claims, and we added the journalists who were on record as being present in the newsroom during the attack. Damage to the newsroom is now also captured in the Tracker’s Equipment Damage category. Using interviews, news stories and court records, this blog serves as a singular reference point for the horrific, targeted attack on the newsroom as it’s documented across our database.
Fireworks or a vase breaking. It took a moment for it to register that the glass doors to the Capital Gazette’s Annapolis, Maryland, newsroom had been shattered by a shotgun blast.
At 2:33 p.m. on June 28, 2018, a gunman shot his way into the newspaper’s first-floor offices, methodically moving through the reception area and down the main hallway dividing the office, firing again and again.
Community news reporter Wendi Winters charged the gunman, holding a trash can and recycling bin in each hand, and yelled for him to stop. He turned and shot her.
Sales representative Janel Cooley used the momentary distraction to run out of the front door. Photojournalist Paul W. Gillespie also found an opportunity to run, feeling the breeze of the shot the gunman fired after him.
Reporters Anthony Messenger, Selene San Felice and Rachael Pacella each tried to escape through the backdoor only to find that it would not open. Police later discovered that the gunman had preemptively barricaded it from the outside.
Trapped in the newsroom, everyone tried to hide.
Crime reporter Phil Davis told The Baltimore Sun that the newsroom was like a war zone.
“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.”
Sales assistant Rebecca Smith was also killed, and sales representative Janel Cooley was injured.
At 2:38 p.m., the man called the police, identified himself as the shooter and said that he was done. Officers arrived at the scene within minutes and found him crouched under a desk, just as many of the surviving reporters were.
The shooter, later identified as Jarrod Ramos, 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.
Following the attack, the Capital Gazette temporarily relocated the newsroom to a former opera house at the University of Maryland. In June 2019, the newspaper reopened in a newsroom with enhanced security and bulletproof walls, but the stay was short-lived as the offices shuttered during the COVID-19 pandemic before permanently closing in August 2020.
In interviews, Davis confirmed he is now the special projects editor at the Baltimore Business Journal and Pacella told the Tracker she is a freelance reporter and photographer in Baltimore. According to their Twitter profiles, Messenger is now a high school quarterback coach in Maryland, and San Felice is a reporter for Axios in Florida.
According to his website, Gillespie continues to work at the Capital Gazette “amidst a shrinking newsroom and dramatically declining working conditions due to his unrelenting love and passion for Anne Arundel County and its community.”
The families of victims and some of the survivors of the shooting filed two lawsuits against The Baltimore Sun and Tribune Publishing in June 2021. 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 told the 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 end-note things,” Davis said. “I hope people realize that it doesn’t create a new chapter for anyone.”