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'Far richer for having known them': One year later, Capital Gazette shooting victims remembered with garden

A memorial garden is dedicated to the memories of Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters, five people who were killed at the Capital Gazette one year ago.

When particularly juicy news broke, Capital Gazette editor Rick Hutzell would burst out of his office to share it with his assistant editor, Rob Hiaasen. One day, he wasn’t there.

Likely, Hutzell told a crowd gathered Friday morning at Acton’s Cove Waterfront Park, Hiaasen had slipped out of the newsroom to come here. Under the shade of the trees, with boats bobbing nearby in the water, he found the solitude to think about his next column, or how to help one of the reporters he edited and mentored.

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Now, the park is home to a rose garden planted in the memory of Hiaasen; Gerald Fischman, an editorial writer; John McNamara, a sports and news writer and editor; Rebecca Smith, an advertising assistant; and Wendi Winters, a community features writer. The garden was dedicated on the first anniversary of the day they were killed by a mass shooter in their Annapolis office.

“In the future, when you have time, come here when this crowd is gone, when the cameras are gone, when we’re gone and our words are long forgotten,” Hutzell said. “Come here and think about what these five lives meant.”

There were tears, but also resolve to carry on the work of the lost colleagues among those attending the dedication: the family and friends they loved; the co-workers, including most of the six who hid from or escaped the shooting that day, and now mourn their loss; the readers and customers of the work they produced; and some of the government officials they covered.

“I am far richer for having known them,” said Hutzell, his voice breaking, “I am far poorer for having lost them.”

That the suspect in the shootings bore a years-long grudge against the Capital, and that the shooting came at a time when the news media often come under attack, provided a backdrop to some of the speakers’ remarks at the dedication.

“It was the most brutal form of attempted censorship,” said David Dreier, chairman of Tribune Publishing Co., which owns Baltimore Sun Media, the parent company of the Capital Gazette.

Earlier this week, Dreier announced the formation of the Fallen Journalists Memorial Foundation to support the planning, design and maintenance of a monument in Washington. U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, is among a bipartisan group of lawmakers that introduced legislation to authorize the memorial. Also under way are efforts to create other memorials, in Annapolis and elsewhere. Longtime civil rights activist Carl Snowden has been leading a drive to create a memorial to press freedom at Newman Park near City Dock.

Trif Alatzas, publisher and editor-in-chief of Baltimore Sun Media, vowed that the newspapers’ mission remains the same.

“We will continue to speak truth to power,” he said.

The dedication of the memorial garden launched a day of remembrance of the deadliest attack on a newspaper in U.S. history. A Laurel man, Jarrod Ramos, awaits trial on murder and other charges in the shooting for which he’s pleaded not criminally responsible.

A moment of silence was held at the time of the attack, 2:33 p.m., in the offices of the Capital, The Sun and beyond.

The same people who came together one year ago, reunited under the roof at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts. At a one-year anniversary concert, poets, musicians and filmmakers used art as a way to heal.

Members of the audience chanted “Rise Up!” as gospel artists and the Eastport Oyster Boys’ band shook the auditorium’s walls. The mayor of Charleston, South Carolina, banged on a piano as he crooned a song written in the aftermath of a deadly attack on nine black churchgoers in 2015.

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Friends and family members of Gerald Fischman, Wendi Winters, John McNamara, Rob Hiaasen and Rebecca Smith shared memories about the victims, and the event concluded with a candlelight illumination of the hall’s labyrinth.

The day’s events come after a year of grief and tumult for the victims’ families and co-workers. The Capital Gazette staff, which famously put out “a damn newspaper” the next day as promised in a tweet by reporter Chase Cook, never returned to its ravaged offices at 888 Bestgate. Instead, they worked out of the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service office on Maryland Avenue until moving recently to a new building.

The memories flowed freely on Friday.

Marty Padden, the Capital Gazette advertising director, paid tribute to Smith, a recent hire who “had the ability to make you feel like you’ve known her your whole life.”

“I spoke to a customer who told me she’s kept a voicemail of Rebecca and listens to it often,” he said. “She just could not bring herself to delete it.”

Two of Winters’ four children, Summerleigh and Montana Geimer, reminisced about their own days in the choir that sang at the memorial dedication and that their mother helped found, the All Children’s Chorus of Annapolis. Montana Geimer, a Navy lieutenant junior grade at Fort Meade, had to smile at another personal memory brought to the fore by the park.

“I think I kissed my boyfriend for the first time on that bench,” she said. “It will be weird now that Mom is watching.”

For Erica Fischman, widow of Gerald, the memorial is “a beautiful place” that will help keep her husband’s memory alive.

“People will come here to be peaceful,” she said.

The five died “senselessly” while doing jobs that made them a vital part of a close-knit community, Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley said. He promised that the city would “continue what was stolen from these five beautiful people.

“Annapolis will keep the love going,” Buckley said.

U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen and U.S. Rep John Sarbanes, Maryland Democrats, also spoke at the dedication.

Calling them the “mirrors” and “interpreters” of the community, Van Hollen said the slain journalists wrote about “the good, the bad, the serious, the absurd, the beautiful and the ugly.

“They were doing what the loved in service to the community they loved,” he said.

Sarbanes recalled rushing to Annapolis after learning of the shooting.

“By the time I got here, there were already two things happening which were awe-inspiring,” he said. “The first was that you could feel the defiance on the part of the Capital Gazette, already beginning to think about how to resist that attack and make sure that that newspaper went out the next morning.

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“The other thing that you could feel was that the healing was beginning,” Sarbanes said. “People were rushing from around Annapolis to put their arms around the families of those victims.”

It was to the politicians that one Capital reporter, Selene San Felice, who hid under a desk as her friends and co-workers were killed, addressed her comments. Speaking after the unveiling of the plaque dedicating a newly planted rose garden to her slain co-workers, San Felice said honoring their memory needs to include new laws to try to prevent mass shootings — a cause for which Andrea Chamblee and Maria Hiaasen, the widows of McNamara and Hiaasen, also have become active.

“This was preventable,” San Felice said. “The way that they died was preventable. Gun violence is a disease that can be eradicated.”

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