Newsrooms fall silent to remember attack on Capital Gazette

For as long as anyone can remember, they rang the bell.

Capital Gazette editors rang their newsroom bell to summon staff and plan stories. Their tradition stretched back decades, but would never be the same.

“Starting with today,” Editor Rick Hutzell told his staff, the survivors. “Every time we ring that bell, we’re going to think of our friends.”

And yet, their bell rested back in their newsroom, now a crime scene. Their five friends were dead. The rest had gathered Thursday in a temporary newsroom to remember their slain colleagues. It was 2:33 p.m., precisely one week after the attack.

“All five people were murdered right around me,” said photographer Paul Gillespie, a 17-year veteran of the newspaper. “I don’t know the end of the story. … I don’t know why he stopped shooting.”

The gunman killed editor Rob Hiaasen, 59; writer Wendi Winters, 65; editorial page editor Gerald Fischman, 61; sportswriter John McNamara, 56; and sales assistant Rebecca Smith, 34.

Police arrested Jarrod Ramos, who had a longstanding grudge against the newspaper. Officers say they found the 38-year-old Laurel man hiding beneath a newsroom desk with a shotgun. Ramos is charged with five counts of murder.

In the days after the attack, the grieving journalists worked on. But at 2:33 p.m. Thursday, their phone calls ended, their typing stopped. Silence filled the room. Deadlines would wait.

They gathered for a moment of silence, a gesture matched in newsrooms around the country.

Reporters paused and hushed 30 miles north at The Baltimore Sun, which owns the Capital Gazette. Newsrooms halted at the Louisville Courier-Journal, the Indianapolis Star, The Oklahoman, and elsewhere.

“The tragedy … tears at our hearts, tugs at our compassion and calls forth our fears for the safety of all those on the front lines of truth, accountability and journalistic pursuit,” wrote presidents of The American Society of News Editors and Associated Press Media Editors.

Professors gathered in the atrium of the journalism school at the University of Maryland, College Park. Fischman and McNamara graduated from the school; Hiaasen taught there.

“It’s comforting to have everybody together,” Dean Lucy Dalglish said. “It’s horrible to think that you would have to do this. Everybody feels like there’s more of a sense of community.”

At the Anne Arundel County government building, employees stopped, too.

"Five of our friends, neighbors and colleagues were brutally murdered in an act of pure evil," County Executive Steve Schuh said. “Our hearts go out to the families of those five beautiful individuals, and so do our prayers.”

In those silent moments, Marjorie Rock remembered the awful sights. She watched from her dentist office, which is in the same building as The Capital newsroom, seeing the paramedics carry out the victims. Later, she recognized one face on the TV.

"I saw John," she said, still haunted.

Across the county, police and firefighters gathered at flagpoles to reflect. Lt. Ryan Frashure said it helped them move toward closure. Anne Arundel County Schools participated, too.

The case against Ramos was proceeding slowly, Frashure said. The alleged gunman has remained uncooperative.

"We still have a lot of questions that need to be answered,” Frashure said.

County employee Janet Morgan was a longtime reader of the local newspaper.

“After so many years,” she said, “you feel a connection to the writers."

In their temporary newsroom, Hutzell addressed his remaining staff. He said he spoke to the University of Maryland about new ways to train young journalists in dealing with threatening readers.

“This person followed some of our reporters for years on social media,” he said. “How do you deal with somebody like this?”

In the days after the massacre, newspapers sent help. Journalists from Chicago, Allentown, Pa., and Norfolk, Va., arrived in Annapolis and Baltimore. Photographer Josh McKerrow found it heartening to hear the familiar sound of the reinforcements typing.

As they spoke in the temporary newsroom Thursday, no one noticed University of Maryland professor Karen Denny slip outside.

Hutzell told those gathered about the history of the newspaper and its bell.

“We’re part of a chain that stretches back more than a century,” he said. “When we’re gone, they’ll hear that bell and they’ll know what it means.”

Then Denny returned and handed him something, an old brass bell with a wooden handle. She borrowed it from a nearby antique store.

The grieving journalists lit five white candles. They bowed their heads. Hutzell stepped forward.

Ring … ring … ring … ring … ring.

Then, silence.

tprudente@baltsun.com

twitter.com/tim_prudente

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