Annapolis gunman wanted to ‘kill as many as possible’

The Capital newspaper came out on Friday despite a shooting which took the lives of five of its staff a day earlier

Annapolis (United States) (AFP) – The 38-year-old gunman who carried out a deadly assault on a newspaper office in Annapolis had barricaded a back door in a bid to “kill as many” as he could,” authorities said Friday, confirming he first made threats against the paper years ago.

Briefing reporters a day after the shooting left five employees dead, Police Chief Timothy Altomare of Anne Arundel County said the suspect — identified as Maryland resident Jarrod Ramos — used a legally purchased pump-action shotgun in an onslaught that also left two wounded. 

A judge on Friday ordered the suspect held without bail on five counts of first-degree murder, county prosecutor Wes Adams said in a separate briefing.

Adams said the decision was based partly on “evidence that suggested a coordinated attack” on The Capital newspaper in Maryland’s historic capital, including “the barricading of a back door and the use of a tactical approach in hunting down and shooting the innocent victims.” 

He “was there to kill as many people as he could,” county police chief Timothy Altomare told reporters, using a shotgun legally purchased around a year ago.

Police confirmed that Ramos, a resident of the Washington suburb of Laurel, Maryland, had a long-standing grudge against the Capital Gazette over an article about his alleged harassment of a local woman. 

Altomare said police in May 2013 investigated “online threatening comments” against the newspaper, which serves the local community in the coastal region between Baltimore and Washington, but that the paper did not want to pursue charges for fear of exacerbating the situation.

He also confirmed Ramos was identified using facial recognition technology and other techniques.

Friday’s edition of the paper — published despite the grief of its staff — succinctly summed up the tragedy in a lead headline: “5 Shot Dead at The Capital.” 

Inside, the editorial page declared, “We are speechless,” but was otherwise left blank in honor of those slain.

Thursday’s shooting was one of the worst attacks ever to target journalists in the United States, and local media said police had stepped up security at other news organizations.

President Donald Trump, who has been at loggerheads with much of the media since taking office, made a point Friday of addressing the “horrific shooting” which “shocked the conscience of our nation.” 

“Journalists, like all Americans, should be free from the fear of being violently attacked while doing their job,” he told an event at the White House.

– ‘Doing our job’ –

Chase Cook, a reporter on the paper whose roots go back to the 18th century, had vowed the shooting would not stop the daily from going to press.

“We’re putting out a paper tomorrow,” he told AFP as he typed grimly away in a parking lot, perched on the back of a pick-up truck. “We’re just doing our job.”

The Baltimore Sun — which owns The Capital — helped its small team of surviving journalists put out Friday’s edition profiling the five staffers who died:

Rob Hiaasen, 59, a former Baltimore Sun feature writer who joined The Capital as assistant editor in 2010 and wrote a Sunday column.

“He loves words, he loves humor,” The Baltimore Sun quoted his wife Maria Hiaasen as saying. “He loved journalism, he loved helping those young writers at the Gazette.”

Gerald Fischman, 61, “the conscience” of the news organization who wrote editorials for more than 25 years.

John McNamara, 56, who pursued his dream as a sports reporter for the paper.

Wendi Winters, 65, a reporter who “had a talent for connecting with the community,” according to a former editor.

Rebecca Smith, 34, a recently-hired sales assistant engaged to be married.

Altomare earlier told Fox News he knew each of the victims.

“Miss Wendi was a human interest reporter who did great work. Rob Hiaasen was a keen wit. He wrote a lot of warm pieces,” Altomare said, emphasizing that “all of them were consummate professionals, and although on occasion we might disagree, they always tried to get both sides of the story out.”

The office of the paper, whose online version is the Capital Gazette, is in a commercial zone behind a bank which remained sealed off by police on Friday.

Katie and her sister Kelly O’Brian came bearing drinks and snacks for the officers.

“The Gazette is very close to the community,” Kelly said.

At the entrance to the area, onlookers left flowers and a T-shirt with the inscription: “What part of ‘thou shalt not’ don’t you understand.”

The killing of 17 people at a Parkland, Florida high school in February has helped reinvigorate the national debate on gun control in a country where firearms are responsible for more than 30,000 gun-related deaths annually.