ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — A man with a long grudge against Maryland’s capital-city newspaper was charged Friday with five counts of first-degree murder after police said he blasted his way into the newsroom with a shotgun in an attack that left four journalists and a sales employee dead.
Jarrod W. Ramos, 38, was swiftly arrested as he tried to hide under a desk Thursday afternoon at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, police said. In court papers, authorities described him as “recalcitrant.”
It was one of the deadliest attacks on journalists in U.S. history.
Acting Police Chief William Krampf of Anne Arundel County said the gunman “looked for his victims” in the newsroom.
“This person was prepared today to come in. This person was prepared to shoot people,” Krampf said.
The public defender’s office had no immediate comment.
Ramos had a well-documented history of harassing the paper’s journalists, a feud that apparently began over a column about Ramos pleading guilty to harassing a woman. He filed a defamation suit against the paper in 2012 that was thrown out as groundless, and he often railed against its staff members in profanity-laced tweets.
Police said surveillance video recorded the attack, which began with a shotgun blast that shattered the glass entrance to the open newsroom.
Journalists crawled under desks and sought other hiding places, describing agonizing minutes of terror as they heard his footsteps and the repeated blasts of the weapon.
Officers responded in about 60 seconds and arrested him without firing a shot, police said. They recovered a gun and said he also carried smoke grenades. Some 300 local, state and federal officers converged on the scene, Anne Arundel County Chief Timothy Altomare said Friday.
The “bad guy” was identified with the help of facial recognition technology from the Maryland image repository system, Altomare said, refusing to give him the satisfaction of identifying him by name. He also confirmed that the weapon was a pump-action shotgun, legally purchased about a year ago.
The rampage immediately stirred fears that the recent political attacks on the “fake news media” and the branding of reporters as “enemies of the people” had finally exploded into violence. But by all accounts, Ramos had a longstanding, specific grievance against the paper.
“Strongly condemn the evil act of senseless violence in Annapolis, MD,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted. “A violent attack on innocent journalists doing their job is an attack on every American.”
Ramos so routinely sent profanity-laced tweets about the paper and its writers that retired publisher Tom Marquardt said he called police in 2013, telling his wife at the time, “This guy could really hurt us.”
In 2015, Ramos tweeted that he would like to see the paper stop publishing, but “it would be nicer” to see two of its journalists “cease breathing.”
Investigators were reviewing his postings and searching his apartment in Laurel, Maryland, for clues to the violence.
Those killed included Rob Hiaasen, 59, the paper’s assistant managing editor and brother of novelist Carl Hiaasen. Carl Hiaasen said he was “devastated and heartsick” at losing his brother, “one of the most gentle and funny people I’ve ever known.”
Also slain were Gerald Fischman, editorial page editor; features reporter Wendi Winters; reporter John McNamara; and sales assistant Rebecca Smith.
The newspaper said two other employees were treated for non-life threatening injuries.
“There is nothing more terrifying than hearing multiple people get shot while you’re under your desk and then hear the gunman reload,” tweeted Phil Davis, the paper’s courts and crime reporter.
In a later interview on the paper’s online site, Davis likened the newspaper office to 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,” he 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.”
An emergency vehicle blocks a road leading to the scene of the shooting.
Reporter Selene San Felice told CNN she was at her desk and ran after hearing shots, only to find a back door locked. She then watched as a colleague was shot, adding she didn’t glimpse the gunman.
“I was breathing really loud and was trying not to, but I couldn’t be quiet,” she said. “I’m going to need more than ‘thoughts and prayers.’”
The city of Annapolis announced a vigil for the victims Friday night at a public square near the Capitol.
Mayor Gavin Buckley said the community is grieving.
“These are the guys that come to city council meetings, have to listen to boring politicians and sit there,” Buckley said. “They don’t make a lot of money. It’s just immoral that their lives should be in danger.”