A memorial honoring the five Capital Gazette staff members killed in a mass shooting in 2018 could be paid for by the state under a proposal in Gov. Larry Hogan’s capital budget.
The 2021 capital budget includes a $300,000 grant — the estimated full cost of the project — to Anne Arundel County with the specific purpose of creating a memorial for the June 28, 2018, newsroom attack that killed Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, Rebecca Smith, John McNamara and Wendi Winters.
Anne Arundel County committed to contributing funds for the memorial in its next budget, but mentioned a request for funds in a letter sent to Hogan’s office, said Chris Trumbauer, senior adviser to County Executive Steuart Pittman.
Trumbauer said state funding is tremendously helpful in making the project happen, but even if the total amount doesn’t come through the county could contribute toward making the memorial possible.
A spokeswoman for Baltimore Sun Media, owner of Capital Gazette, issued a statement when asked about the proposed memorial.
“We will never forget the colleagues we lost, Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters. We appreciate when others want to memorialize them and the mission they supported,” the spokeswoman said.
The memorial would be constructed on Compromise Street in downtown Annapolis, where the city donated land at Newman Park. It’s evolved from a black granite marker with the names of the people who died, to a more elaborate display that will focus on the freedom of the press.
The design features five pillars that stand in front of a brick wall, with the First Amendment carved in stone. The memorial would stand beneath the trees, an element that one of the designers hoped inspired time for reflection.
It’s being designed by Moody Graham, a Washington, D.C.-based architecture firm. Jay Graham, one of the designers of the memorial, previously told The Capital that the memorial design “has a social message, a political message, but it is also about the healing power of nature.”
Carl Snowden, a longtime civil rights activist and convener of the Caucus of African American Leaders, is leading the charge on the memorial. He said he was thrilled to see that it could be funded through the governor’s budget.
The memorial was previously set to be named the Defenders of Freedom Memorial but will now be called the Defenders of the First Amendment Memorial, Snowden said.
Emphasizing the constitutional right that is the First Amendment is important, Snowden said, explaining the name change.
“We must have a free press. People must have the right to write and publish stories without fear of being shot,” he said. “That right cannot be abridged.”
The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Committee, a non-profit group organizing the memorial, will select a contractor to build the memorial once the budget passes and the money is ensured. The group has created three other memorials centered around constitutional rights throughout the county.
After the memorial is built, the committee will turn it over to an entity for upkeep. Other memorials have been donated to Anne Arundel Community College, the city or the county. Because of the downtown Annapolis location, Snowden said it’s likely the memorial would be donated to the city for upkeep.
Hogan’s budget bill is one of three bills that mention the newsroom attack.
A bill from state Sen. Susan C. Lee, D-Montgomery County, would require prosecutors in a criminal case to disclose to a defendant whether facial recognition or forensic genetic genealogical DNA analysis and search are used during the criminal investigation of the case.
The bill’s fiscal note mentions that facial recognition software was used by police to identify the gunman in the Capital Gazette shooting. After its first hearing, the bill was withdrawn by the sponsor.
A bill from Del. Neil Parrott, R-Washington County, aims to bring back the death penalty in cases of mass murder and is named the Capital Gazette Shooting Memorial Act.
Parrott grew up in Crownsville reading The Evening Capital and said he thinks the death penalty is the only adequate punishment in this case and cases like it.
The bill, which is likely to face significant opposition, would only impact cases in the future and would not allow prosecutors to seek the death penalty in the case of the man who has pleaded guilty to the murders.
Parrott did not seek the endorsement of The Capital in the naming of his bill. He said he understands the need for the news media to stay neutral, but informed Editor Rick Hutzell of his plan to introduce the bill last week.
Parrott also did not seek the endorsement of the families of the victims or the survivors of the shooting, nor did he inform them about the bill.
“I wanted to be sensitive to the families and not draw them into the minutiae of legislation,” Parrott said. “I would hate to drag them into something that’s not moving forward. Further on, I’m sure I will be reaching out to them.”
Maryland Policy & Politics
Andrea Chamblee, whose husband John McNamara died in the newsroom shooting, said she was appalled to learn what Parrott called his bill. Chamblee is active in the Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
“For him to introduce this bill using the names of the victims is infuriating,” Chamblee said.
She said it shows bad faith that he is using this as a “tough on crime” gesture when she feels it is disrespectful to the victims and survivors of the shooting.
“It’s disturbing that he didn’t bother to ask any of the survivors before he takes our name and uses it for the political stunt,” Chamblee said. “And it is a stunt because it’s not going to bring back anybody. We’re trying to prevent gun violence, not kill more people.”
Parrott said he was sorry to hear of Chamblee’s objection but that the bill is his response to the shooting, and “it makes sense that (this) would be the title.”
Maryland outlawed the death penalty during the 2013 legislative session; it was signed by then-Gov. Martin O’Malley after it passed through both houses. Before that, executions had been taking place in Maryland for more than 300 years.
In 2013, Parrott, who tried unsuccessfully to repeal the decision by petition, told The Baltimore Sun, “One way or another, it’s not over.”