A man who stalked a woman through Facebook, then spent years harassing the journalists who covered his case, shot and killed several employees of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland on Thursday. The suspect opened fire on the Capital Gazette offices in the afternoon, and he was apprehended by police after injuring multiple staff members and killing five: special publications editor Wendi Winters, sales assistant Rebecca Smith, assistant news editor Robert Hiaasen, editorial page editor Gerald Fischman, and staff writer John McNamara.
Police have identified the suspect as Jarrod Ramos, a former US Bureau of Labor Statistics employee who pled guilty in 2011 to criminally harassing a high-school classmate. According to an article published in the Capital Gazette, Ramos sent the woman a friendly greeting, then began to insult and threaten her after she responded — telling her to kill herself, calling her workplace to get her fired, and scouring her friends’ profiles for details about her life. Ramos claimed the paper had defamed him with its reporting. A judge dismissed the case, noting a “fundamental failure” to understand defamation law: “[Ramos] is aggrieved because the story was sympathetic toward the harassment victim and was not equally understanding of the harassment perpetrator.”
This loss was only the start of a years-long harassment campaign against the Capital Gazette, chronicled partially in an unsettling Twitter feed that appears to belong to the suspect. The account repeatedly references the 2015 shooting at Charlie Hebdo’s offices in Paris, and it displays a singular animus toward the Capital Gazette. “I’ll enjoy seeing @capgaznews cease publication, but it would be nicer to see Hartley and Marquardt cease breathing,” reads one tweet, referencing staff writer Eric Thomas Hartley — who wrote the article in question — and former editor and publisher Tom Marquardt.
Marquardt told The Los Angeles Times that staff had worried about violence from Ramos: “I said during that time, ‘This guy is crazy enough to come in and blow us all away.’” But Marquardt said police were unable to arrest him, and that the staff was afraid to antagonize him by taking him to court.
The suspect’s identity and his grudge against the Capital Gazette weren’t revealed until several hours after the attack. In the interim, several US cities dispatched police to guard newsrooms, out of caution that the shooting might be tied to a larger attack on the press. Tensions were heightened by a recent comment from far-right figurehead Milo Yiannopoulos, who told two news outlets earlier this week that he “can’t wait for the vigilante squads to start gunning journalists down on sight.” Yiannopoulos expressed outrage at any possible connection shortly after the shooting, calling the comments a “private joke” and saying that “I regret nothing I said, though of course like any normal person I am saddened to hear of needless death.”
Journalists have also been a frequent target of President Donald Trump, who has called the press “the enemy of the American people” and recently said that “fake news” media (specifically, the networks NBC and CNN) was “our country’s biggest enemy.” After the attack, Trump tweeted that his “thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families,” and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders wrote that “a violent attack on innocent journalists doing their job is an attack on every American.”
Police have said that an investigation into the shooting is still in progress. Bloomberg journalist Madi Alexander opened a fundraising campaign for the newsroom, which has currently taken in around $45,000. And the Capital Gazette has vowed to continue publishing in the wake of the shooting. “I can tell you this: we are putting out a damn paper tomorrow,” wrote reporter Chase Cook on Twitter.