Tributes and memorials have created spaces for the community to dump some of the grief they’ve been towing for the last year. They are open forums for people trying to heal from the unconscionable.
And that’s what happened Friday night.
The same people who came together one year ago, reunited again 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.
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.
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.
“Please remember Rob as a wordsmith,” said the assistant editor’s widow, Maria. She recounted the last day she spent with her husband. He danced a birthday jig for Maria’s 58th. Rob presented Maria with a gift she’d open later when they’d “have more time,” she remembered saying.
“That is not what happened,” she said.
Editor of The Capital Rick Hutzell said Gerald Fischman was quiet and reserved, yet thoughtful. Despite his stance against publishing poetry in the newspaper, Fischman secretly wrote love poems to his wife, Erica.
Summerleigh Geimer, the youngest of Wendi Winters’ four children, said she’s been trying to fill her mother’s shoes.
“My hope is that, maybe, you guys will shove a toe in and try to help me with that,” she said.
And Marty Padden, the Capital Gazette’s advertising director, told the crowd just how kind Rebecca Smith was. She suffered from endometriosis and Padden encouraged the audience to “look into” the illness.
The event was an opportunity to mourn and reflect.
But it was also the culmination of Maryland’s first Freedom of the Press Day, marked in honor of the shooting that claimed five lives. It’s a chance for the entire state to consider what happened in Annapolis.
The effort to make June 28 Freedom of the Press Day was championed by state Sen. Sarah Elfreth. The freshman lawmaker filed the legislation in January and garnered unanimous support on both sides of the aisle. Gov. Larry Hogan signed the bill into law in April.
“Our goal with this is to make sure we never forget in the third year, the fourth year,” Elfreth said.
She reflected on the role the press has played in her life as she’s emerged into the public sphere.
“It’s wonderful that we’re getting bills passed, but if we don’t communicate that, it’s almost as if it didn’t happen. We need a well-informed public to have a strong democracy,” Elfreth said. “I can’t do my job without an informed public and they can’t hold me accountable.”
Press freedom is celebrated worldwide on May 3. The holiday was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993.
Dr. Courtney Radsch, advocacy director for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in an interview the holiday can help those who aren’t journalists understand the dangers of the profession.
“Having a community day like this can help people remember that nobody should be killed for doing their jobs,” Radsch said. “Because of (the Capital Gazette newsroom) attack, it meant the U.S. was the fourth-deadliest country in the world for journalists, on par with Mexico.”
The CPJ keeps a running log of journalists who have been murdered, tortured or threatened around the world.
Five journalists have been killed in the first six months of 2019: Ahmed Hussein-Suale Divela in Ghana; Leonardo Gabriel Hernández in Honduras; Francisco Romero Díaz, Norma Sarabia Garduza and Rafael Murúa Manríquez in Mexico.
In 2018, 34 journalists were killed while working. Eighteen in 2017; 19 the year before, according to the CPJ’s database.
The profession’s getting dangerous, Radsch said. Two months after the shooting at The Capital, a masked gunman injured a disk jockey at a Wisconsin radio station. Pipebombs were sent to CNN employees in October.
Emani Payne, a reporter at KCEN-TV in Texas, took to Facebook in late May to tell viewers she was threatened at gunpoint while on assignment.
“People need to really understand that journalists aren’t something ‘over there,’” Radsch said. “They are people working in their communities to help tell stories. They help our democracy function.”
The night also served as a message to voters and politicians; speakers asked for commonsense gun laws to prevent more mass shootings.
During the shooting, Wendi Winters charged at the gunman with a plastic bin. Survivors say it provided enough of a distraction for six people to leave the newsroom that day.
While that action may have been indicative of her mother’s character, Summerleigh Geimer said it shouldn’t have had to happen.
“It is not our job as citizens to run at a shooter with a recycling bin, but it has to be a priority to fix this broken system.”