Capital Gazette shooting suspect's anger flared, and fell silent. Then, police say, it exploded

For half a decade, Jarrod Ramos’ anger poured out in court papers, tweets and email messages. He saw enemies. He wrote that he’d like to kill one of them. He suggested another kill herself. He created online images marking others out for sacrifice.

Then, in 2016, it all stopped.

Until late last month, police say, when his anger exploded in shotgun blasts in the Annapolis newsroom of The Capital.

A final court filing, dated the day of the deadly attack and bearing Ramos’ name, provided a haunting coda: “I told you so.”

The sudden outburst of deadly violence on June 28 has left victims of Ramos’ harassment and threats asking: Why now?

“That’s the mystery for all of us,” Thomas Marquardt said.

Marquardt was editor and publisher of The Capital in 2011 when a columnist wrote about a months-long campaign of harassment Ramos carried out online against a former high school classmate. Ramos, 38, pleaded guilty to harassment, but continued to pursue the woman — and the newspaper — in the courts and on social media.

Ramos is now charged with five counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Capital staff members Rob Hiaasen, 59, an assistant editor and columnist; Wendi Winters, 65, a community correspondent who headed special publications; Gerald Fischman, 61, the editorial page editor; John McNamara, 56, a longtime sports writer; and Rebecca Smith, 34, a sales assistant hired in November.

The Capital is owned by the Baltimore Sun Media Group.

The court papers Ramos authored, other records and interviews suggest an intelligent but isolated man who was willing to pursue a vendetta for years.

Brennan McCarthy, the attorney for Ramos’ initial harassment victim, said he “was completely malevolent.”

Neither Ramos’ parents, who divorced in 2003, nor his sister responded to requests for comment. Other relatives said they had not had contact with him for several years.

William Davis, Ramos’ public defender, declined to comment. Anne Arundel County police say Ramos has declined to be interviewed by detectives.

Ramos was born in Silver Spring, he wrote on one job application, and grew up in Anne Arundel County. In 1994, his parents bought a house in a new development in Odenton. It was about 2 miles from Arundel High School in Gambrills, from which Ramos graduated in 1997.

A classmate who asked that his name not be used shared a copy of the class yearbook with an inscription signed “Jarrod.”

“You know it and I know it — this class, this school, this whole damn place is full of s---,” it read. “Anyways, only a few more hours till it’s out of our lives forever. I hope life gets better once we’re gone. I’m sure it will.”

Jenny Johnson, who was a year ahead of Ramos, remembers a socially isolated student who was rude to girls. He made fun of her breasts, she said, and asked another girl if he could “ski her slopes.”

Johnson said Ramos participated frequently in the one class they shared, but was arrogant. She said he had a low voice and wore a black trench coat.

Johnson recalls other students making fun of Ramos’ glasses. Once, she said, someone threw chewing gum into his long hair.

“People treated him like dirt,” Johnson said.

The high school classmate who was harassed by Ramos wrote in court papers that he contacted her in 2009. She wrote that she didn’t remember him. She wrote that he thanked her “for being the only person that was ever nice, or said hello to him high school.”

Ramos disputed this in a court filing, saying he told the woman she used to throw food at him.

While in high school, Ramos landed an internship with the National Security Agency, a spokesman for the spy agency confirmed. The position, which typically runs for a year, would have required him to obtain a top secret security clearance, NSA spokesman Christopher Augustine said. Court documents show Ramos was hired as recently as 2013 to a government contracting job that required a clearance.

In 1997, Ramos enrolled at what was then called Capitol College, a small school in Laurel focused on information technology. He graduated in 2006 with a bachelor of science degree in computer engineering.

Ramos played chess competitively from 1999 until 2003, according to the U.S. Chess Federation. He attended Friday night sessions at a club that met at Fort Meade until security was tightened after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Other members of the club said they couldn’t recall Ramos.

In 2003 he finished third in his division at the Maryland Open.

Ramos began working at the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2007. He held IT contracting jobs for the federal agency until 2014, according to court records.

For at least some of that period Ramos worked a night shift. In a 2012 court filing, Ramos said he “protects the health and security of network resources and information assets.”

In 2004, Ramos moved to his current address — a basement apartment next to a laundry room in a small building in Laurel. Neighbors said they rarely saw him come and go, and he never had visitors.

“He was like a mole,” said John Cusumano, who lives on the top floor. “Like a chameleon, he just blended into the bricks.”

Cusumano said he sees other residents of the complex regularly, but in the two years he’s lived there he ran into Ramos only twice.

Cusumano said he did hear Ramos.

“I know he played video games because you always heard them,” he said. “He played war games and stuff, because you could hear the shooting.”

In 2011, then-Capital columnist Eric Hartley described Ramos’ outreach to the former high school classmate who became a harassment victim.

“If you’re on Facebook, you’ve probably gotten a friend request or message from an old high school classmate you didn’t quite remember,” he wrote.

But Ramos’ messages to the woman soon became vulgar and menacing.

“Have another drink and go hang yourself, you cowardly little lush,” Ramos wrote. He told the woman’s employer she was a “bipolar drunkard, " Ramos wrote in a court filing.

She eventually lost her job.

The woman sought and was granted a peace order and brought harassment charges against Ramos. He pleaded guilty in July 2011 and was placed on 18 months’ probation.

But the harassment didn’t stop, McCarthy said. Ramos tried to obtain emails that were part of the classmate’s health records from a counseling center in Annapolis they had both attended, the woman alleged in a court filing. A judge issued that order but it was overturned on appeal; a third order was granted later.

A Twitter account in Ramos’ name created in November 2011 bore images of Hartley and Marquardt marked with “Brands of Sacrifice” from Berserk, a dark fantasy comic series set in Medieval Europe. The Japanese manga series explores the best and worst of human nature, with themes of isolation, evilness and humanity appearing throughout.

“The lives of those who bear the Brand, from the last drop of blood, to the last moment of your agonizing death, will feed life to the new Child of Darkness,” one character says in the series.

Ramos brought a defamation case against Hartley, Marquardt and the company that published The Capital in 2012. It was the first in a series of lawsuits in which he represented himself. In court filings, he veered between standard legal language and grandiose statements. He identified the parties as “belligerents.”

“Comes now a savage force of nature, endowed with sentience, tempered by reason, prepared for total war,” Ramos wrote.

A Prince George’s county judge held a hearing on the case in March 2013 and ruled that Ramos had failed to properly allege defamation.

The material in Hartley’s column “all came from a public record,” Judge Maureen M. Lamasney said from the bench. “It was of the result of a criminal conviction. And it cannot give rise to a defamation suit.”

Ramos appealed that ruling in 2014, and filed a new case against his former classmate and her attorney. He alleged that the woman had encouraged The Capital to invade his privacy and had brought a civil case against him improperly.

McCarthy, the classmate’s lawyer, said Ramos was adept at using the legal system to suggest a sense of legitimacy to what was really an extension of his stalker-like behavior.

“He’s not stupid,” McCarthy said.

The classmate, who asked that her name not be used, said Ramos would look for ways to antagonize her without contacting her directly, such as mentioning her on Twitter but not tagging her in the message.

“He knows exactly what he is doing,” she said in an interview. “He is extremely intelligent and calculating. … He knows right from wrong. He planned everything he did to me.”

Ramos expressed concern that his legal problems could affect his job.

In one document, he said his supervisor knew about his problems, but described him as “the standard by which others are judged.”

In another, Ramos said a team leader at the Bureau of Labor Statistics recruited him to join a company he was starting. But because of his legal problems, Ramos wrote, “his job offer, which represented an increased salary, was withdrawn.”

A Bureau of Labor Statistics official emailed the contractor who oversaw Ramos in 2014 asking that he be removed from his post over “suitability concerns.” Ramos’ former employer used the email as an exhibit in a lawsuit he filed against the company. The company told Ramos it had no other opportunities for him, and he lost his job.

A spokesman for the Department of Labor didn’t respond to questions about those concerns. Ramos’ employer said in a court filing that the concerns were the result of an inspector general investigation, but the company didn’t know what was found.

It’s not clear whether Ramos has worked since 2014.

After the harassment victim lost her job, she wrote in an affidavit that she had been unable to find work, and had fled Maryland to be free of Ramos.

“I am physically afraid of Mr. Ramos, and that he may cause me serious physical injury and/or death,” she wrote.

An appeals court tossed out Ramos’ defamation case in 2015 in scathing terms.

Judge Charles E. Moylan Jr. wrote that Ramos had displayed a “fundamental failure” to grasp how defamation law worked.

Ramos appealed to the state’s highest court. The panel declined to take the case.

Ramos vented on Twitter for a few days. On Jan. 21, 2016, he posted a final, cryptic tweet.

“I’d say Moylan should kill himself, but I hope he lives to see this.”

Then, silence. No more tweets. No more lawsuits. No more court filings.

“That was actually more terrifying to me than anything else,” McCarthy said. “I checked out my window every day before I came to work.”

At some point in 2017, Ramos legally bought the pump-action shotgun he’s accused of using in the killings. Neither the threats nor the harassment conviction were a barrier to purchasing the weapon.

The next trace of Ramos came the weekend before the shootings. He paid $1,500 to buy a lifetime membership in the U.S. Chess Federation, a spokesman for the organization said.

Then on Thursday, June 28, police say, he sent letters to three people who had been involved in his defamation lawsuit.

Later that day, police say, Ramos went to the newspaper’s offices at 888 Bestgate Road. Police say he barricaded a back door and blasted his way through the front.

The letters didn’t arrive until Monday — after the shootings, after Ramos was taken into custody, after he was charged with murder.

A packet received by The Capital’s former attorney included a document formatted in the style of a legal motion to the court that refused to hear Ramos’ appeal in the defamation case.

“You were too cowardly to confront those lies, and this is your receipt,” the writer says. “I told you so.”

The writer says he plans to “proceed to the office of respondent Capital-Gazette Communications … with the objective of killing every person present.”

The packet included a letter addressed to Moylan, the judge who dismissed Ramos’ appeal.

“Welcome, Mr. Moylan, to your unexpected legacy: YOU should have died,” the writer says. “Friends forever, Jarrod W. Ramos.”

Baltimore Sun reporters Luke Broadwater, Andrea McDaniels and Catherine Rentz, Capital reporter Chase Cook and Chicago Tribune reporters Stacy St. Clair and William Lee contributed to this story.

iduncan@baltsun.com

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