Author: Hannah Boring
At 2:33 p.m. June 28, 2018 in Annapolis, Maryland (MD), a gunman charged into the newsroom of a local newspaper, The Capital Gazette. Two people were injured and five were fatally shot: John McNamara, Gerald Fischman, Rebecca Smith, Rob Hiaasen and Wendi Winters. Six people survived, continuing their work despite the tragedy. Chase Cook, a reporter for the Capital, made a statement on Twitter directly following the shooting: “I can tell you this: We are putting out a damn paper.”
The following day, the Capital Gazette published a special 40-page newspaper edition in dedication of those lost. The front page detailed the dreadful event. The most impactful part of that print, however, was the opinion page, which was left blank with the statement, “Today, we are speechless.” They promised to return to their normal articles the next day, but a remembrance of those lost was necessary so that the city of Annapolis and the Capital staff could begin their healing.
The Capital Gazette's history traces back to the 1720s. This publication lived through the American Revolution, the Civil War, World Wars I and II, the Cold War, the War on Terror and so much more. They watched as women gained the right to vote and slavery was abolished in America. The history attached to the Capital Gazette strengthens its significance in Annapolis, bringing the community together for centuries before and for centuries to come.
As a kid, I would walk outside every Sunday to bring a copy of the Capital inside for my father to read. He would let me keep the comics section while he got the news. The fact that the small, local newspaper for the suburban town I grew up in had to deal with such a tragedy is truly shocking. Never in my life would I have expected this to happen. However, their resilience and dedication to their work was, and continues to be, absolutely remarkable and inspiring.
When I say that their dedication to their work was remarkable, I mean it. Directly following the shooting, photojournalist Joshua McKerrow took photographs of first responders. Journalists from the Capital Gazette and the Baltimore Sun, the newspaper that owns the Capital, worked out of the back of a pickup truck at the Westfield Annapolis Mall, across the street from the Capital Gazette newsroom. These journalists compiled photographs and writings detailing their experience immediately following the newsroom attack. The Capital Gazette staff never stopped working.
This tragedy touched many across the country and across the world. As Rick Hutzell, editor of the Capital Gazette, stated, “But as happens with any event that touches people, that tragedy has been interpreted to fit the very real needs of those whom it touches.” These interpretations could represent America’s problem with mass shootings and the gun control movement.
Andrea Chamblee, the wife of John McNamara, and Maria Hiaasen, the wife of Rob Hiaasen, have started speaking out about the need for gun control in America. Even though the gunman has a criminal record of a misdemeanor for harassment and the state of Maryland has some of the strictest gun laws in the United States, the gunman could still legally purchase the shotgun used in the attack.
Along with mass shootings, this tragedy could also be interpreted as an attack on journalism, an attack on the freedom of the press. President Trump has been known for his statements about journalists, claiming they are the “enemy of the people.” One of his most famous catchphrases is “Fake News,” which he used during the 2016 election to claim that negative news about him was inaccurate. On the one year anniversary of the Capital Gazette shooting, President Trump joked with Russian president Vladmir Putin, about “Fake News” and their disdain for the press.
However, Hutzell also worked to make sure that the community and fellow journalists understood their importance. “No matter the threat, your dedication to the work of journalism is what guarantees a free press survives,” Hutzell said.
A month after the shooting, the “Annapolis Rising” music festival was held in honor of those lost. Thousands of people attended, showing the strength of the community coming together.
Annapolis mayor Gavin Buckley opened the event. “We want people to come to Annapolis and see that this massacre did not break this city… It made us stronger,” he said. “It brought people together.”
Many of those that attended proudly wore shirts supporting the press and the city of Annapolis, which included expressions such as “Journalism Matters,” “I back the First Amendment,” and “Annapolis Strong.” The “Annapolis Rising” event was created to honor the victims of the Capital Gazette shooting, while also fighting to protect the freedom of the press. This event ultimately helped to strengthen the Annapolis community in a time of healing and mourning.
The Maryland General Assembly acknowledged the importance of journalism when they voted to make June 28 “Freedom of the Press Day” in honor of the five victims. The two chambers passed the joint resolution in a unanimous vote of 137-0 in the House of Delegates and 46-0 in the Maryland Senate. “Freedom of the Press Day” joined over a dozen other Maryland holidays in March of 2019, reminding us all to appreciate local journalists and the work they do for the city of Annapolis.
Those lost in the shooting had a tremendous presence in the community.
Photos below courtesy of The Baltimore Sun.
A Capital Gazette article called Rob Hiaasen, 59, “a joyful stylist and a generous mentor.” A former Capital Gazette reporter said that Hiaasen took on a father-like role at the paper, claiming he “treated new reporters like his own children.”
Colleagues of Gerald Fischman, 61, was “the clever, quirky voice of a community newspaper.” In an interview with one of his former coworkers, Fischman was described as a lover of dry humor and making others laugh with the statement, “He would say the funniest lines and not crack a smile.”
John McNamara, 56, pursued his dream of sports reporting throughout his career. As an author of two books about sports at the University of Maryland, McNamara was incredibly dedicated to his craft, doing his best to get the work done right.
Rebecca Smith, 34, is remembered as a valuable asset to the Capital, even though she was hired just a few months prior to the tragedy. Friends and coworkers of Ms. Smith described her as kind, considerate and thoughtful.
Wendi Winters, 65, is remembered as a loving woman who dedicated her work to her community. Micah Stevens, a rising junior in Annapolis, spoke to me about Winters, who was a close family friend of hers.
“Well, Wendi was the life of the party! Everyone that knew her loved her, like you couldn’t help it. She was just the sweetest woman,” Stevens said. She also emphasized the impact of her loss, stating, “There is always this different energy in the air … When we are at parties or sometimes just going to lunch with family friends because we know who’s missing… But we always leave one seat open to always remember Wendi.”
The community certainly felt the loss. Some had personal connections to the journalists, and some may have only known them from an article they had written. However, whether they were a part of the family or just a name on a newspaper, their work had a lasting impact on Annapolis.
Chloe Gordon, a recent high school graduate in Annapolis, described the impact of their loss in the statement, “Unity. Empathy. On all sides. This paper is so vital to the community.” These words represent the feelings of a community in pain, in mourning and in healing. The Capital Gazette shooting united Annapolis together in a way that no one would have imagined.
To everyone reading, appreciate your local news organization more. As Catherine Russell, a rising senior in Annapolis, stated, “I know I started to appreciate local press more. They tell our stories, what’s happening here.” Your local newspaper is dedicated to you, to your community, to your history. The world of journalism may span countries, but it all starts with the small newspapers covering the issues facing their community.
Annapolis will remember those lost in the Capital Gazette shooting as people who dedicated their lives to their community, to our community. Much has changed in the past year, but what changed the most was the strength and unity of a small town faced with an unexpected tragedy.