Passionate defenses of the First Amendment and poignant recollections of fallen journalists marked the unveiling Monday of a new memorial in Annapolis honoring the Capital Gazette shooting victims.
The “Guardians of the First Amendment” installation at Newman Park immortalizes the five employees killed June 28, 2018 — John McNamara, 56, Gerald Fischman, 61, Wendi Winters, 65, Rob Hiaasen, 59, and Rebecca Smith, 34 — with five towering granite pillars positioned in front of the constitutional passage engraved in stone against a brick wall.
Speaking to the crowd, Phil Davis, who survived the newsroom attack, described Hiaasen as a passionate news editor; Winters as a popular Annapolis reporter who wrote stories about neighbors and neighborhoods; Fischman as a stoic but encouraging editor; McNamara as a local historian of regional basketball; and sales assistant Smith as excited about local news tips.
“We see these five as people who fought for a greater cause, but also as individuals who were part of the greater whole that we call society,” said Davis, now a crime reporter for The Baltimore Sun, which owns the Capital Gazette.
Local and state politicians presented the memorial as a firm commitment from Annapolis to uphold basic freedoms enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. A dozen people spoke at the ceremony, including Mayor Gavin Buckley, County Executive Steuart Pittman and House Speaker Adrienne Jones. Andrea Chamblee, the widow of McNamara, and Summerleigh Winters Geimer, the daughter of Winters, also made remarks.
David Simon, creator of HBO’s “The Wire” gave a keynote speech titled “The Death of Truth.” Bestselling mystery author Laura Lippman also spoke. The two former Sun reporters are married and friends of some of the victims.
“A social media construct once heralded as a great democratization of free information led by ‘citizen journalists’ has instead proven itself to be a playground for untethered falsehood, agitprop and political machination,” Simon said. “Without professional gatekeepers to assess and propagate fact, anyone can say anything. And in fact, they do.”
The Annapolis memorial’s dedication to the First Amendment marks a precarious time in the journalism industry. Simon emphasized national politicians’ recent attempts to discredit news organizations. Lippman pointed to the U.S. Justice Department recently revealing that it secretly seized journalists’ records to identify their sources.
The city is now one of many across the United States to erect a monument to remember residents killed in a mass shooting. This year alone, the Gun Violence Archive, a research and data organization, has tracked 305 mass shootings — defined as instances where four or more people are killed.
Carl Snowden, leader of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Committee in Anne Arundel County, raised an initial $10,000 to hire the architect Moody Graham to design and create the project. The memorial’s construction was accelerated to be completed by June 28 and ran into foundational problems along the way.
Located a few yards from Ego Alley, a narrow waterway into the city, Newman Park is filled-in land with unstable soil, architects discovered. Crews installed steel helical piles — a type of foundation anchor that screws into the earth — and finished construction Friday.
The design evolved over two years to emphasize the First Amendment over individual victims. The 2018 shooting has been cited as the most violent attack on journalists in U.S. history. Jay Graham, principal landscape architect, said the design respects Baltimore Sun Media’s position that journalists represent the communities they cover and are often uncomfortable being the center of a story themselves.
A curved brick wall that matches Annapolis’ historic aesthetic also features the front-page Capital Gazette story the day after the shooting. Cyprus trees were planted behind the wall to create shade and resemble a forest clearing.
Snowden said he hopes future generations visit the memorial located next to Annapolis Elementary School to reflect on the tragedy and understand, as James Madison said in the Virginia Report of 1800, that free press and free expression is “the only effective guardian of every other right.”
The public unveiling was held ahead of the first day of the insanity trial for the gunman who barricaded the newsroom before blasting his way inside with a shotgun. A jury is tasked with deciding whether the man who held a grudge against the local newspaper was insane or not during the attack. He has pleaded guilty to all charges, but not criminally responsible, Maryland’s version of the insanity defense.
For family members of the victims, the passing of every 28th day in June is a reminder of the gun violence that stole their loved ones in a matter of minutes. The mass shooting created newfound fears of office buildings. New habits to check for the exit in every room. And each year brings a new public event that requires a brave face on one of the worst days of a family’s life.
“You’re a part of something so big, so historic,” said Cindy Rittenour, younger sister of Rebecca Smith, in an interview. “How am I supposed to feel? How am I supposed to act?”
Family and survivors have flown or driven miles into town for the memorial unveiling and Tuesday’s opening arguments. They’ve rented hotels in the city where their mothers, fathers, siblings, spouses and friends were killed.
Maria Hiaasen, widow of Rob Hiaasen, said in a speech that her husband, an Aquarian, would have loved the memorial’s location across from Ego Alley. Hiaasen was known to escape work and sit by the water some afternoons.
“(The memorial) pays tribute not to the heinous act of June 28 but to the losses of those who loved him, and to the triumph of those strong writers and editors who rallied and got that damn paper out,” Hiaasen said.
Congress approved funding for a national memorial on federal land in Washington, D.C., called the “Fallen Journalists Memorial” to honor journalists who died reporting the news. Gov. Larry Hogan made June 28 “Freedom of the Press Day” in 2019. A plaque in Acton’s Cove and another in the statehouse press room also honor the Capital Gazette victims.
Journalists have been assaulted and arrested in unprecedented numbers during anti-police brutality protests that heated up across the country in 2020, according to the U.S. Press
During that year, 139 journalists were arrested or detained compared to nine a
The Morning Sun
rrests in 2019.
The Maryland Gazette, part of the Capital Gazette, has been a figure in Maryland’s capital since 1727. It is one of the oldest publications in the country and was established before the First Amendment was ratified. Baltimore Sun Media bought the company along with the Carroll County Times in 2014.
Despite national accolades for continuing to publish in wake of the mass shooting and the Annapolis community rallying to support the news organization, The Capital has been impacted by the downsizing trends of the industry.
Last month, hedge fund Alden Global Capital successfully purchased Tribune Publishing, including The Baltimore Sun and The Capital, after passing on an offer to sell to Maryland businessman Stewart Bainum Jr. The hedge fund’s acquisition caused alarm among local lawmakers as former Capital Gazette editors Rick Hutzell and Chase Cook and reporter Danielle Ohl accepted voluntary buyouts.
Hutzell was one of the speakers at Monday’s unveiling.
“As hard as the people who made this memorial worked on it, (the victims) aren’t in these bricks or in these powerful words,” he said. “The true memorial to Rob and John and Gerald and Wendi and Rebecca is in the hearts of those who loved and knew them.”