An armored truck rumbled outside the Capital Gazette newspaper office in Annapolis. Police with assault rifles walked the street. Yellow crime tape cordoned off the newsroom where the journalists were fatally shot.
And across the street, their colleagues — two reporters, one photographer — worked to report the story of the day: the massacre of their friends and co-workers.
“I don’t know what else to do except this,” said reporter Chase Cook, the grief showing in his eyes.
Cook, a state politics reporter for The Capital newspaper, had worked 16 hours on Tuesday covering the primary elections. So he was home Thursday afternoon when a gunman blasted his way into the Capital Gazette newsroom. Armed with smoke grenades and a shotgun, police say, the attacker killed five people, and two others were injured — reporters, editors, sales assistants.
Just that morning, assistant editor Rob Hiaasen had called Cook. A reader had complained about a headline.
“We worked it out,” Cook said. “I haven’t spoken to him since.”
Hiaasen was one of the journalists killed.
On Thursday afternoon, Cook’s cellphone rang again. Editor Rick Hutzell said there there had been a shooting. Hutzell was hurrying back from vacation in Ocean City.
Cook also sped to the newsroom.
Outside the Westfield Annapolis Mall, he saw photographer Joshua McKerrow, a 14-year veteran of the newspaper. They embraced.
McKerrow had started his workday at sunrise, photographing the induction of the newest class at the Naval Academy. By afternoon, he was driving home to celebrate his daughter's birthday. He had promised her a snowball.
Hutzell had called him, too.
"He said he'd heard there had been a shooting," McKerrow said. “He couldn't get in touch with anyone in the newsroom."
As McKerrow drove, he heard sirens.
"Literally, that same moment, I saw dozens of emergency vehicles. ... My heart sank.”
At the mall parking garage, Cook and McKerrow met reporter Pat Furgurson.
Furgurson had spent the morning at the doctor’s office. He decided to lunch at the mall before work. His cellphone rang with an editor at The Baltimore Sun warning him: stay away.
“He said, ‘There’s been a shooting in The Capital building,’ ” Furgurson said. But he was in disbelief. He pictured a former newsroom, a few miles away.
“The old one?” he asked.
Now, the three journalists joined to begin reporting on the crime in their newsroom.
Those who escaped the gunman were at the police station and unreachable. Cook scrolled through their tweets, glimpses of chaos: “Please help us … gunman shot through the glass door … opened fire on multiple employees … nothing more terrifying.”
Furgurson’s pickup truck — the one he had driven back and forth across Anne Arundel County in his 19 years with the paper — became their makeshift office. There was a Jesus figurine on the dash, a blues CD in the radio, and laptops in the truck bed where McKerrow was filing photos from the scene.
Cook leaned against the tailgate, a reporter’s notepad in his back pocket, typing updates on his cellphone.
They knew few details. They tracked updates from police.
As they worked, a swarm of national news media descended on their office, home to a pair of local newspapers tracing back nearly 300 years.
“Jeff did say we’re putting a paper out?” Cook asked.
McKerrow adjusted the camera strap on his shoulder.
“He did,” the photographer said firmly. “We are.”
Between their news stories and photos, they texted messages to family, friends and colleagues. The phone calls poured in. Journalists who left the newspaper years ago offered to return and help.
How are you? they asked.
Cook was OK. But what else does one say?
“The words ‘OK’ and ‘good,’ they don’t really mean anything right now,” he said.
He turned back to his phone, and his next assignment: biographies of his five slain colleagues.
Furgurson’s wife arrived. They watched police work the crime scene across the street.
“How many of you are there to put out a paper?” Becky Furgurson asked her husband.
“We don’t have any editors, except Rick,” he told her.
Hutzell arrived. They hugged in the parking garage. Then the editor left to speak with the police.
Hours passed. Police and reporters gathered at 8 p.m. for a news conference. Cook and Furgurson squeezed through the crowd of journalists from NBC, CNN, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal.
Radio reporter Joel McCord saw Furgurson and shouted. McCord waved him over.
“No,” Furgurson yelled. “I’m trying to save my spot."
In the barrage of reporters’ questions to police, Cook managed to get one in. He wanted to know about his colleagues who escaped.
“Can you just tell us a little bit about the people who were not injured?” Cook asked. “What their status is? How they’re doing?”
“We have people here who have met with them,” Lt. Ryan Frashure said.
The reporter and the police spokesman had spoken countless times at crime scenes. But never like this.
“It’s very important that they’re taken care of,” Frashure said. “Our hearts go out to them.”
Furgurson found himself called out as a Capital reporter. In moments, he was mobbed by national news cameras.
He doesn’t remember what he said. But he felt his words were imperfect.