A snow globe, a poem, a home: Capital Gazette victims revealed, recalled in the things they left behind

As he settled into the afternoon’s tasks, John McNamara must have slipped his shoes off under his desk.

Rob Hiaasen likely was tapping away at his own station, kept company by a toy soldier, a snow globe and other desktop ephemera. Sitting next to him was Gerald Fischman, surrounded by books, so many books. Nearby was Wendi Winters, keeper of the office candy jar, and up front, Rebecca Smith, still new to the job but the first face someone would see coming into the Capital Gazette offices in Annapolis.


On June 28, 2018, a gunman shot his way through the front glass doors. He killed the five co-workers as six of their colleagues fled or took cover under desks and between file cabinets. Jarrod Ramos, 39, of Laurel, who harbored a years-long grievance against The Capital, is awaiting trial on murder and assault charges, to which he has pleaded not guilty and not criminally responsible, Maryland’s version of the insanity defense.

One year later, what remains of that terrible day for the families of the victims range from small mementos to larger intangibles: their belongings, at home or retrieved from the ravaged office. The unfinished projects, the now-scuttled plans. The legacies that will outlast their foreshortened lives.


As they mark the year’s passing, their loved ones reflect on the things they left behind.


In three file boxes, John McNamara had meticulously organized his research for a book on the history of high school basketball in the Washington area, starting in 1900. At the time of his death, he had gotten to 1998.

His wife, Andrea Chamblee, took it from there. During the nights when she couldn’t sleep anyway, she turned his outline and notes into sentences, chapters and finally, a 348-page book that will be published by Georgetown University Press in November, “The Capital of Basketball: A History of DC Area High School Hoops.”

“This is my love letter to John,” she said.

“In many ways, it was a distraction — I would come into an empty house and work on it until after midnight,” Chamblee said. “I do feel like it’s a part of John, and now that it’s finished, I don’t know if I want to share it or keep it for myself.”

McNamara, 56, covered sports for most of his career before becoming several years ago the editor of the Bowie Blade-News, which like the Capital is owned by Baltimore Sun Media. He and Chamblee graduated from the University of Maryland’s journalism school together in 1983; she is now an attorney with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

What she received from her husband’s office in Annapolis fit into a single box, yet it contained multitudes.


There was a pair of loafers, which she imagines her husband having taken off only to be startled by the arrival of the shooter and jumping from his chair without them.

Andrea Chamblee, wife of slain Capital Gazette sports journalist John McNamara, stands outside of his home office as she reflects on her life since McNamara was slain along with four others in the mass shooting June 28.

There was also a little reproduction of a Ted Williams Moxie soda ad and four books: a biography of Brooks Robinson, a memoir about baseball and fathers and sons, one that uses storytelling to understand personal finance and a collection of poems by a Bowie-based writer.

“There was so much more to him,” Chamblee said, than of the “sportswriter” tag that usually is attached to his name.

His kindness and love of family, for one thing, she said, whether caring for a family member seriously injured in a car accident or shepherding Chamblee through ultimately unsuccessful fertility treatments.

They had resisted buying a bigger house or newer cars and had calculated to the day when they could retire and travel more. On the day he left their Silver Spring home for the last time, Alexa provided the latest tally.

“1,008 days,” she said.



Two days before she died, Wendi Winters had dinner with her youngest daughter at, appropriately enough, Mother’s Grille in Arnold. As they conversed, Winters, 65, mentioned giving her a pair of her shoes, white and black patent leather ones, that for Summerleigh Geimer were a definite hard pass.

Later, as she and her siblings sorted through their mother’s belongings, “the godawful shoes” popped up, and she took possession. Along with a large signed print by designer Betsy Johnson, they were reminders of her mother’s days as a fashion publicist in New York — and what Geimer calls the funky, vintage style that once prompted she and her siblings to nominate Winters for the fashion makeover show “What Not to Wear.”

With her brother and two sisters living elsewhere last year, she was the one to rush to the scene after learning of the shooting. “I called Mom, and when she didn’t pick up, I knew,” she said. “There’s never been a time when she wouldn’t pick up.”

She waited hours for official confirmation, then made the tough calls to her siblings, all in the Navy.

Summerleigh Winters Geimer, daughter of Wendi Winters, with a pair of her mother's shoes.

That a lot of candy was found in Winters’ desk at the Capital is no surprise. She kept both her own and her work family in sweets, said her oldest daughter, Winters Leigh Larca. There would be peppermint bark for Christmas, heart-shaped chocolates for Valentine’s, chocolate-peanut butter eggs for Easter — and now a whole year has passed without them and all they represented, she said.


“I feel like we’ve kind of lost our focal point,” Larca said. “We’ve lost our central gathering point. Annapolis is our home, we all went to Annapolis High School, but we’ve lost that sense of having a home in our hometown.”

In May, Larca was married in Virginia Beach, a happy occasion but for Winters’ absence. The mother of the bride had her own ideas for the ceremony — “She wanted us to get married on a glacier in Iceland,” Larca said.

Instead, it is Winters’ ashes that would go abroad. Some were left in Turkey, where she spent some of her childhood, and, some went with her son, Phoenix Geimer, to Italy — fittingly for Winters, he said.

“She kept her passport current no matter what,” he said, even though Winters didn’t travel as much as she wanted. “It was an aspirational passport.”

Phoenix, a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy’s Sixth Fleet headquarters, said his mother had “a very clear sense of how the world worked … and how small changes in one area could lead to big changes in another. She saw how she could make a difference her way to make the world better.”

His sister Montana Geimer, a lieutenant junior grade who now works at Fort Meade, lives in Winters’ home in Edgewater. She helped her mother find the house, which Winters moved into in 2016, the year Montana graduated from the Naval Academy.


Larca, a Navy officer candidate attending Purdue University in Indiana, said you could tell the home was Winters’ the moment you stepped in.

“There was no living room, or sitting area. No couches,” she said. “She set up her office where the living room would be. When I would come for a visit, I would put a chair by her computer to have a glass of wine with her. She was very absorbed in her work.”

Survivors of the Capital Gazette attack said Winters, armed only with trash and recycling bins, rushed the gunman, which some credit with giving them time to run or hide. Maryland’s congressional delegation has asked that she be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom; the White House did not respond to a request on whether a decision has been made.

“My mom, I think she considered the younger reporters her adopted children,” Larca said. “I think maybe she wanted to protect the people she considered family.”


Rebecca Smith had not worked long at the Capital, where she was a sales assistant, so she hadn’t accumulated much in her desk to be packed away and returned to her family.


Tammy Kaskel, a cousin of the 34-year-old Smith, keeps a container of her ashes in her Dundalk home’s living room. Spotting it on a recent day stopped her in her tracks.

“I lost it. I thought: That’s where she is,” Kaskel said. “This is what I have of her.”

Smith was raised by the grandparents she and Kaskel shared. It is not so much objects but occasions that bring Smith to mind. A daughter’s birthday, a nephew’s baptism, dance recitals and holidays — Smith would have been at each and every one, Kaskel said.

“She was someone who was always happy for other people,” said Kaskel, who works with the disabled.

Recently, her two daughters’ school had an active shooter drill, and she made sure to talk to them about it. One asked, “Did Rebecca know that was going to happen to her?”

As other mass shootings happen, she tries to use them as teaching moments even as she relives learning about the shooting and being called to identify Smith at the funeral home.


“It’s like you’re in the same day again,” Kaskel said. “I was talking to one of my daughters the other day about empathy. There are always people going through what we are going through. It ripples out.”


If Gerald Fischman were one of the dozens of books that he left behind on his desk, he would be the one not to judge by its cover.

For sure, the bespectacled and cardigan-clad Fischman, 61, was quiet and had a wide-ranging intellect, something he drew upon for the incisive editorials he wrote.

His friend Rick Hutzell, editor of Capital Gazette Communications, said he would check his facts in the dictionaries, history books and other volumes stacked around him, but he often had gotten it right on his own.

“He just could pull in references from anywhere,” Hutzell said. “I can misquote Shakespeare with the best of them. He would know it and get it right.”


But beneath that mild-mannered exterior apparently beat the heart of a romantic. His colleagues were abuzz — some minds were even blown — when about a dozen years ago, seemingly out of the blue and fairly late in life Fischman married an opera singer originally from Mongolia, Saran Erdenebat. They had met in the audience of an opera performance at the Kennedy Center.

Even after death, he continued to surprise his co-workers. His wife, who also goes by the name Erica Fischman, said at his funeral that he would mark special occasions by writing a poem for her. She did not respond to interview requests.

The revelation was particularly eye-opening for Hutzell.

“He was the enforcer of the no-poetry rule on the editorial page,” he said, even when some of the verses submitted were not that bad. But Fischman never relented, saying, “You can’t tell them it’s a bad poem.

“Come to find out, he spent his entire life writing poetry,” Hutzell said.

“There were worlds within him.”



Rob Hiaasen’s briefcase made it back home, even if he didn’t.

In it, his wife Maria would find, were the things he carried and the things he kept on his desk: Visine eyedrops and Burt’s Bees lip balm. A weekly planner filled with reminders of who was working the Saturday shift and when his wedding anniversary was. A snow globe from Bethany Beach and a tiny toy soldier — surely one of the playthings that occasionally surfaced in their Timonium backyard that probably belonged to the now-grown little boy who had lived next door.

“Rob was a child at heart,” she said of the 59-year-old editor and columnist.

There was also a postcard from their vacation in Provence, and one featuring a vintage photo of an orange grove in his native Florida. That one came from Rachael Pacella, one of the young reporters he mentored.

Pacella suffered a concussion and head wound trying to escape the office through a back door that had been barricaded from the outside. That the postcard survived the carnage, and that Rob himself was posthumously honored with a mentoring award by the University of Michigan, brings comfort after an often anguished year.


“I think Rob was a person who saw people for the imperfect type of humans that they are,” she said. “He taught me how to sort of not get too down on myself. He taught me to see the humanity in other people, and certainly the humanity in myself — and to be gentle on myself.”

A long-frustrated novelist, Rob left behind a manuscript that thanks to Maria was published in September, “Float Plan.” She also has compiled a book of his columns, “Love Punch,” to be published on the anniversary of the shooting. It will benefit the National Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.

In addition to getting their husbands’ works-in-progress over the finish line, both Maria Hiaasen and Andrea Chamblee have become active in the anti-gun violence movement. They serve as vice-chairwomen of the Anne Arundel County Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, created by County Executive Steuart Pittman in April.

Maria is bracing for the anniversary, which is also her birthday — and a reminder of his last present.

Rob had left a gift bag for her when he went to work. It sat untouched until the family who had streamed into town in the wake of his death had mostly left. Maria gathered up her nerves and with her younger daughter Hannah sitting next to her opened it: Along with a few other gifts was a beautiful blank journal.

Rob had known that Maria, an English teacher, freed from some previous duties at work, had been planning to do some writing herself.


It was not the kind of writing she had imagined, but the journal became a diary of her sadness. She took it along on a trip out West that they had planned, taking her elder daughter Sam instead. They spread his ashes in some of his favorite places.

Rob’s desk at home is still largely as he left it. Post-it notes to himself remind him of meetings and the need to call his nephew. There is a “Christmas Story” fishnet-legged lamp from his son Ben, seashells and family photos, files for the reporting class he taught at the University of Maryland College Park, an old typewriter — and still plenty of room to work on the massive desk that once belonged to his late father.

Maria has taken up running and completed a half-marathon. At one point, she decided it was time to stop wearing her wedding ring, but bought one with an infinity symbol to wear on an adjacent finger. Rob’s wedding band circles her right thumb. Soon, she’ll join a friend’s “destination” birthday celebration, in Tuscany.

But first, she has to get through June 28. She plans to spend some time with her family, appear on a radio show and give brief remarks at a commemorative event.

“I’ll be doing something that makes me feel good,” she said, “talking about Rob and his writing.

“Is my life the way I want it? Hell no,” Maria said. “But you’ve got to live in the moment.”