Prosecutors told a packed court Monday that the man who attacked the Capital Gazette on June 28, 2018, was in the newspaper’s office for just over 19 minutes. Then, they used about that much time to lay out the gruesome details of his rampage that day.
Anne Arundel State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess repeated the names of those killed — Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters — numerous times throughout Monday’s hearing, during which Jarrod Ramos pleaded guilty to the murders. She also detailed where they and the six survivors were when they faced Ramos’ shotgun and, in some cases, shared people’s last words.
Victims, survivors and their families filled four reserved rows in the courtroom. As the hearing started, many stared stoically ahead. But when the state’s attorney launched into her re-creation of the shooting, people grasped hands and put their arms around each other. Sheriff’s deputies passed out tissues as people wept.
Several said the hearing revealed a few, new hard-to-hear details, but mostly they were glad to have the first part of the process done.
“Today was really hard, and I can’t imagine dragging it out any longer than this,” said Selene San Felice, a reporter who survived the shooting.
Andrea Chamblee sat in the front row. She had her husband John McNamara’s press pass around her neck.
Phil Davis, a former Capital reporter who now works for The Baltimore Sun, said he learned a few things about the day — that 40 shell casings were found and that Ramos had attempted to sign up for a chess club from jail.
“It put some pieces together,” said Davis, who took cover under his desk and texted police sources for help. “At the same time, it didn’t change the facts. They were more relevant to the court than me.”
Davis and dozens of others heard in clinical terms about the location of each one of the gunshot wounds inflicted on their friends and loved ones.
Summerleigh Geimer said it was hard to listen to the facts of her mother’s — Wendi Winters’ — final moments read in open court. Still, she appreciated that the prosecution entered into the record the details of her mom’s heroics — how she grabbed a trash bin and charged the gunman, a distraction her surviving colleagues credit for saving them.
“It’s tough to hear for the first time,” Geimer said, “but good to get it done in one go.”
And Geimer chuckled thinking about how the hearing began at 2 p.m., even though it was scheduled for 11 a.m.
“It started late," she said, “just like our mom would’ve been.”
Baltimore Sun Media, which owns the Capital Gazette, said in a statement that officials were relieved Ramos pleaded guilty to the 23 counts of murder, attempted murder and assault.
Jury selection still will be held Wednesday for the second phase of the trial, to determine whether he will be held criminally responsible.
“We are closely watching as the judicial process takes its course and proceeds through deliberations about the perpetrator’s criminal responsibility and sentencing,” the Sun’s statement said. “We remain focused on supporting our colleagues and the victims’ families during this difficult time. Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith, and Wendi Winters will never be forgotten."
Capital Gazette editor Rick Hutzell said he knew the day was coming, but hearing the details laid out still was difficult. He and others learned Monday morning that Ramos agreed to plead guilty.
“He never made any legal pretense that he wasn’t responsible,” he said. “Is it justice? I hope it helps the family and friends.”
Danielle Ohl, a reporter who was not in the office during the attack, called the hearing intense.
“I’m relieved this part is over,” she said. “Now there will be some semblance of a trial we will have to go through. But at least we know this person takes responsibility.”
The news of a guilty plea reverberated across Annapolis. Mayor Gavin Buckley said he was relieved that the victims’ families and the survivors were “spared the agony of a trial with this admission of guilt.”
“This tragic event brought our community together, and together we were bracing ourselves to support The Capital family as they were preparing to relive the worst day of their lives,” he said. “We continue to stand behind the newspaper, free speech and the First Amendment.”
County Executive Steuart Pittman called Ramos’ guilty plea good news.
“I want to congratulate the state’s attorney and her team for their work," Pittman said. "This guilty plea is the result of a lot of hard work on their part.”
Stiil, he said, the State’s Attorney’s Office has a lot of work to do on the trial’s next phase.
Breaking News Alerts
The Rev. John Crestwell, Winters’ minister from the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis, said he is glad to hear Ramos is “accepting responsibility for his horrific acts.”
Winters learned active shooter training at the church, and some believe she tapped into those lessons when she charged the gunman. Crestwell, who knew her for 10 years, said the congregation is still in mourning.
“This is not behind us,” he said. “I hope this will expedite this process and bring this to a close. Until he is in prison and serving his time, there is no closure.”
Rev. Ryan Sirmons burst into tears upon hearing that Ramos intended to plead guilty to Winters’ murder. He knew Winters for two decades after meeting her at church.
“It’s good to see some honesty and truth around what happened,” he said. “It gives some resolution and maybe a point of healing for the community.”
The proceedings, he said, stirred up grief.
“The grief is still real,” Sirmons said. “The grief will continue to be there, but this gives the grief some grounding.”