The suspected shooter in an attack that left five people dead at a newspaper’s office in Annapolis, Md., on Thursday has been identified as a man who had obsessively harassed and threatened the publication’s journalists for years.
Jarrod W. Ramos was captured after the shooting at the offices of Capital Gazette Communications, according to a senior law enforcement official speaking on condition of anonymity.
Local and federal agents were searching his home Thursday evening in Laurel, Md. But as of 9 p.m. EDT, Ramos had not been booked into the Anne Arundel County jail.
Court records and social media posts revealed that Ramos launched a lengthy and disturbing vendetta against the company after its daily newspaper, the Capital, ran a 2011 column describing how Ramos was convicted of criminally harassing a woman who had turned down his advances.
Ramos accused the Capital of defamation and sued, representing himself in court, unsuccessfully. A Twitter account under his name showed hundreds of posts related to the case and its various appeals.
The profile picture on the Twitter account featured the writer of the column, and some posts alluded to other shootings of journalists, including the 2015 attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris and two Virginia television journalists who were murdered on live television later that year.
“He waged a one-person attack on anything he could muster in court against the Capital,” Tom Marquardt, the newspaper’s editor and publisher until 2012, told the Los Angeles Times in a phone interview.
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“I said during that time, ‘This guy is crazy enough to come in and blow us all away,’” Marquart said, adding that he and other newspaper officials had fretted over how to stop Ramos’ harassment.
Marquart said police couldn’t arrest Ramos for his behavior toward the newspaper, and the paper was reluctant to sue him in court. “The theory back then was, ‘Let’s not infuriate him more than I have to. ... The more you agitate this guy, the worse it’s gonna get.’”
As he spoke to the Times, Marquart’s voice grew tense as he recalled his fear of Ramos, and how he’d felt powerless to do anything to stop the harassment.
“If it’s him, I’m gonna feel ... responsible for this,” Marquart said. “I pray it’s not him.”
After the shooting began, a young intern at the newspaper sent out a plea on Twitter: “Active shooter 888 Bestgate please help us.”
Officers responded to the offices of the newspaper within a minute of receiving a report of an active shooter on Thursday afternoon, Anne Arundel County police reported. Police said they arrested Ramos at the scene and took him in for interrogation.
The first comprehensive details about the attack then came from Capital crime reporter Phil Davis in a series of tweets after he reached safety, while waiting to be interviewed by police.
“A single shooter shot multiple people at my office, some of whom are dead,” Davis tweeted. “Gunman shot through the glass door to the office and opened fire on multiple employees. Can’t say much more and don’t want to declare anyone dead, but it’s bad.”
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Davis added: “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, Davis said he didn’t know why the gunman stopped shooting. And then he stopped to reflect on the violence he’d covered as a journalist, which had come to his own office.
“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 Sun identified the victims as Rob Hiaasen, 59, an assistant editor and columnist; Wendi Winters, 65, a community correspondent; Gerald Fischman, 61, editorial page editor; John McNamara, 56, a staff writer who covered sports; and Rebecca Smith, 34, a sales assistant.
Journalists were last killed inside the U.S. in 2015, when a disgruntled television journalist killed two former colleagues during a live broadcast, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which tracks violence against journalists.
Capital Gazette Communications is owned by Tronc — the former parent company of the Los Angeles Times — and publishes the Capital, the newspaper of record for Annapolis, and a separate newspaper called the Maryland Gazette. The newspapers publish under a joint website called the Capital Gazette. Capital Gazette also runs two weeklies — the Bowie Blade-News and Crofton-West County Gazette — out of the Annapolis office.
Jimmy DeButts, an editor for the website, published a heartfelt tribute on Twitter about the craft of his fellow journalists, with a nod to the struggles of many local newspapers to continue working under tough economic conditions. “There are no 40 hour weeks, no big paydays — just a passion for telling stories from our community,” he tweeted.