Capital Gazette staffer Rebecca Smith remembered by family, friends as 'beautiful soul'

Sweet. Quiet. A good person. A beautiful soul.

Such attributes came to mind Sunday afternoon as family and friends of Capital Gazette staffer Rebecca Smith recalled the 34-year-old woman torn from their lives.

“Smart, beautiful, talented, everything you want in a daughter,” Smith’s mother, Beth Rittenour, of Warren, Ohio, said through tears after a visitation the family held Sunday afternoon in Dundalk, where Smith had lived. After she was born, Rittenour recalled, “I showed her to everybody. She was beautiful. My beautiful baby.”

“All I can do is keep her in my heart.”

Smith, who had joined the Capital as an advertising sales assistant in November, was one of five staff members killed June 28 in a mass shooting in the paper’s Annapolis newsroom.

Also killed in the attack were assistant editor and columnist Rob Hiaasen, community reporter and editor Wendi Winters, sports and community reporter John McNamara and editorial page editor Gerald Fischman. A memorial service for Smith was planned for Sunday evening at the Duda-Ruck Funeral Home on Wise Avenue.

Jarrod W. Ramos, 38, of Laurel, who had pursued a vendetta against the paper and some staffers for years, has been charged with five counts of first-degree murder.

Before an early afternoon visitation Sunday for Smith, several dozen people gathered in the funeral home’s parking lot, talking quietly and embracing before filing into the building under a bright, cloudless sky. Over the next two hours, a steady stream of mourners arrived to pay respects, many of them young.

John Laing, of Dundalk, said he got to know Smith through softball. Smith’s fiance, Dewayne Poling Jr., and Laing had played on the same men’s slow-pitch softball tournament team. Smith always accompanied Poling and the team on tournament trips, to North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida and elsewhere. Smith loved the beaches, Laing said.

Each year at Thanksgiving, the couple would host “Friendsgiving” at their house, Laing said. The couple had recently moved to Dundalk.

“She was just a quiet, nice person, always nice to people and nice to us,” he said. “It’s just tough.”

A benefit softball tournament was being played over the weekend at the Carroll County Sports Complex in memory of Smith, organized by BeastMode, Poling’s team based out of Carroll County and Hanover, Pa., the Carroll County Times reported Friday. About 20 teams are donating their entry fees to a GoFundMe campaign set up by BeastMode team members Brett and Carolyn Dedmon.

“We are like a family,” Samantha Teal, a team member from Hanover, told the Carroll County Times. “We are actually family.”

The BeastMode team also created T-shirts with Smith’s nickname, Becca, printed on the back and showed up at Poling’s house, according to a Facebook post from June 29.

“I literally broke down in tears,” Poling wrote on the post. “But for the first time in [two] days ... Happy tears. Tears because through this crazy time I have my blood family who have done EVERYTHING to make this horrible time a little easier, I also have my softball family. This ... This is why Rebecca Smith and I were so into this game. For this family. We miss you baby, and even though this is the toughest time in my life ... I am surrounded by the people we loved.”

On Facebook, Smith had called Poling her “softball fiance,” and called his daughter from an earlier relationship “the best kid ever.”

Bonnie Carson, great-grandmother to Poling’s daughter, described Smith as “the sweetest person.”

“It’s a shame,” Carson said after visiting with Smith’s family Sunday afternoon.

Smith, who was born in Baltimore and grew up in North Point Village and Fort Howard, was raised by her maternal grandparents, William Malinowski, a driver for County Ride, and Catherine Malinowski, a homemaker. She graduated in 2001 from Sparrows Point High School, where she played field hockey and ran cross country. Her grandmother died in 2004 and her grandfather in 2011.

Smith acted in community theater during middle school, her cousin, Tammy Kaskel, told the Baltimore Sun.

“She had such a great voice, was very supportive, and wanted to see others succeed,” Kaskel told The Sun.

Smith graduated from Villa Julie College with a degree in marketing, becoming the first person in the family to go to college, Kaskel said.

Before working at the Capital, she had worked in marketing with Press Box and the former Maryland General Hospital, now the University of Maryland Medical Center Midtown Campus.

“I found her to be a person of tremendous potential, and it is sad that we will never see her live up to that,” Marty Padden, the newspaper’s advertising director, told The Baltimore Sun. “We’re just heartbroken.”

Selene San Felice, a Capital Gazette reporter who survived the shooting, told The Sun she and Smith had become friends and talked every day, about Smith’s fiance’s daughter, a recent move and her medical issues. Smith battled endometriosis, a tissue disorder. On Facebook, she called herself an “Endo Warrior.”

“Rebecca was strong — that’s the first word that comes to mind, and she was so kind,” San Felice said.

On Sunday, many mourners said they were not yet ready to share their memories of Smith.

Her sister, Cindy Rittenour, sat on a step outside a back entrance of the funeral home and declined to talk about her sister. She said she needed some time.

Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters Frederick N. Rasmussen and Jennifer Turiano contributed to this article.

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

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