Jarrod W. Ramos, 38, was charged with five counts of first-degree murder, according to online court records.
Jarrod Warren Ramos swore a “legal oath” in court documents to kill a writer for The Capital newspaper, whose staff had long endured his violent rants. A lawyer warned a judge of Ramos’ “violent fetishes.” And he was convicted of harassing a woman who successfully placed three restraining orders against him.
Yet the 38-year-old Laurel man accused of gunning down five employees of the Annapolis newspaper Thursday — after barricading the exit door as part of a pre-planned attack — legally purchased the pump-action shotgun he allegedly used in the rampage, authorities said Friday.
Brennan McCarthy, the lawyer who represented the woman Ramos harassed, said he knew the accused gunman was dangerous and tried to warn others.
“It was very obvious to me very early that this was a person who was malignant,” McCarthy said. “He felt that he was at war. He was at war with The Capital. He was at war with my client. He was at war with me. He was at war with my family. I was very, very scared for my family for years because of this individual.”
Ramos made his first appearance in court Friday after being charged with five counts of first-degree murder in the targeted attack, staring impassively and blinking at the camera as he appeared over video link from a county jail.
Court documents lay out his years of hostile behavior toward a woman he became obsessed with and the journalists at his local newspaper. Years after he unsuccessfully sued the newspaper for defamation, Ramos allegedly blasted through the front glass door of the newspaper’s office Thursday afternoon, methodically shot and killed five people and then hid under a desk where police found him, according to charging documents.
Ramos is charged in the killings of editor and columnist Rob Hiaasen, 59; Wendi Winters, 65, a community correspondent who headed special publications; editorial page editor Gerald Fischman, 61; editor and sports writer John McNamara, 56; and Rebecca Smith, 34, a sales assistant. Two other staff members, Rachael Pacella and Janel Cooley, were also injured during the attack. They have been released from the hospital.
Anne Arundel County Police Chief Timothy Altomare said that police found evidence at Ramos’ apartment that he had planned the attack. Altomare declined to be specific, but said items were recovered that connected him to the shooting.
Ramos was armed with a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun that he purchased legally about a year ago, officials said. Police would not say how much ammunition was used.
“The fellow was there to kill as many people as possible,” Altomare said.
When Ramos refused to cooperate with police and a check of a fingerprint database ran slowly, authorities took additional steps to identify him. Altomare said they used facial recognition technology, drawing from the Maryland Image Repository System of mug shots and driver’s licenses to identify Ramos.
“It’s really hard to interrogate somebody when you don’t know who they are, when you don’t know where they come from … that’s why we asked for help,” Altomare said.
He denied reports that Ramos had mutilated his fingertips to avoid identification. Once Ramos was identified, Altomare said detectives discovered his feud with The Capital that began with a column written several years ago.
Altomare said police had no warning that Ramos might carry out an attack on the newspaper. While Ramos posted on his Twitter account before the shooting, it wasn’t reported to police.
“If we’d have had a whiff, we’d at least have tried,” Altomare said.
Ramos was taken to a court commissioner early Friday and was held without bail. At the full bail review hearing conducted over video later Friday morning, District Judge Thomas Pryal ordered that Ramos continue to be held without bail. “There is a certain likelihood you are a danger,” he said.
Anne Arundel's top public defender, William Davis, represented Ramos at the bail hearing. He argued against holding the hearing and he asked for a gag order. The judge denied both motions.
Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney Wes Adams argued to keep Ramos in jail due to the nature of the crime — “systematically” killing employees trapped by a back door he had barricaded shut, Adams said. He argued Ramos presents an “overwhelming danger to the community.”
“There were two entrances to the offices in which this attack occurred. The rear door was barricaded,” Adams said later outside the courthouse. “Mr. Ramos then, as I told the judge, entered the front door and made his way through the office where he was shooting victims as he walked through the office,” he said.
Adams told The Baltimore Sun that he intends to prosecute the case himself.
Windows at the gunman’s basement apartment in Laurel were boarded up by early Friday morning and a large dent marked the blue door. Ramos’ name was scrawled on a green slip of paper on the mailbox for 402B.
To help piece together the details of how the shooting rampage unfolded, police used surveillance video from the office at 888 Bestgate Road.
The attack began about 2:40 p.m. when 170 people were working inside the 5,000-square-foot office complex. The Capital Gazette, which is owned by The Baltimore Sun, is one of 30 tenants in the building and one of a handful on the first floor.
Reporters who witnessed the shooting said they dived under their desks for protection; some said they tried not to breathe or make any sounds, some screamed and others pleaded for help on Twitter. Police said they arrived within 60 seconds, and surrounded the shooter as he hid under a desk.
Photographer Paul Gillespie said, “I kept thinking, ‘I can’t believe I’m going to die. I can’t believe this.’ ”
He described running during a lull in the gunfire and jumping over a co-worker’s body and escaping the building. Gillespie said he made it to a nearby bank and screamed for people to call the police.
Ramos’ long grudge with the Capital Gazette began in July 2011 after the paper ran a column about him harassing a former high school classmate on social media and the criminal case against him. He sued the columnist and the news organization’s editor and publisher for damaging his reputation, but a court ruled in the newspaper’s favor and Ramos ultimately lost an appeal.
The woman Ramos was convicted of harassing had filed two police reports against him after he began contacting her in late 2009 or early 2010, according to court records. Initially nice, his emails to her quickly turned “vulgar,” according to court documents.
By January 2011, she sought a restraining order and criminal harassment charges against him, calling it a “last resort,” court documents show.
A judge approved a restraining order, and Ramos pleaded guilty to harassment. He received a 90-day suspended sentence with 18 months probation. He was required to be evaluated and attend counseling for psychiatric or psychological treatment and to stay away from the woman and her family.
However, the woman wrote in court filings that Ramos continued to harass her and sent her a threatening letter. She obtained two more restraining orders against him in 2012 and 2013, according to court records. The last order lasted until March 5, 2014.
In 2013, representatives from The Capital met with Anne Arundel County police to discuss Ramos’ actions, according to a police report released Friday.
“Ramos makes mention of blood in the water, journalist hell, hit man, open season, glad there won’t be murderous rampage, murder career and paper,” the police report states.
Nevertheless, the officer meeting with The Capital at the time wrote he “did not believe that Mr. Ramos was a threat to employees for The Capital.”
The police conclusion “was based on the contact they have had with him, as only on twitter and civil court filings. He has not attempted to enter the Capital Newspaper building or sent direct threatening correspondence,” Officer Michael Praley wrote. “As of this writing the Capital will not pursue any charges. It was described as putting a stick in a beehive which the Capital Newspaper representatives do not wish to do.”
But Ramos continued to rant against the paper and its employees.
In a 2014 court filing, Ramos threatened that he wanted to kill Eric Hartley, The Capital columnist who had written about his harassment case.
“Plaintiff has sworn a legal oath he would like to kill Hartley, and he still would,” Ramos wrote.
Neither Hartley, nor the editor and publisher at the time, Thomas Marquardt, are still employed by The Capital. They were not present during the shootings.
In October 2014, McCarthy, the lawyer representing Ramos’ harassment victim, asked a judge to order a mental health evaluation for Ramos. McCarthy included a printout of Ramos’ Twitter feed, which he called “disturbing.”
Breaking News Alerts Newsletter
As it happens
Get updates on the coronavirus pandemic and other news as it happens with our free breaking news email alerts.
“There exists a very real possibility that at some point in time, Mr. Ramos will take these violent fetishes as expressed in print, and will try to carry them out in person, and the nature of the posts provides proof that threats have escalated over time,” McCarthy wrote. “This Court should absolutely consider a mental health evaluation before a tragedy occurs.”
The harassment victim filed an affidavit in support of the request. She wrote that Ramos got her fired from her job and she hadn’t been able to find another one.
“I have chosen to move from Maryland to escape Mr. Ramos, who is unstable,” she wrote. “I am physically afraid of Mr. Ramos, and that he may cause me serious physical injury and/or death.”
A Prince George’s County judge ordered Ramos to stop posting about McCarthy or the woman on his Twitter account, but declined to order the evaluation.
Altomare refrained from using Ramos’ name during the Friday morning news conference. “I will not say his name today,” the chief said. “He doesn’t deserve for us to talk about him for one more second.”