The Capital Gazette Shooting Victims Are Remembered In These Incredibly Moving Tributes
A man wielding a shotgun killed five people Thursday, attacking staff at Annapolis-based newspaper the Capital Gazette. Despite the horrific violence, the paper went to print on Friday, and included touching profiles of each of the five Capital Gazette shooting victims lost from its newsroom.
That the Capital Gazette's surviving employees were able to put out Friday's issue was hailed by many journalists as moving proof of their dedication to their colleagues, and a commendable demonstration of a shared belief in the value of community-centered local journalism.
While the paper's homepage was filled with news about the shooting, editors chose to leave their opinion pages empty. A simple statement — "Today, we are speechless" — appeared in the bottom half of the blank page. It was followed by: "This page is intentionally left blank today to commemorate victims of Thursday's shooting at our offices." The five names of the victims were also listed.
The suspect in Thursday's shooting has been arrested and charged with five counts of first-degree murder. And it seems he had a past with the Capital Gazette. The paper ran a column in 2011 about the shooter's harassment of a former high school classmate, for which he tried to sue, but the court sided with the newspaper. The man allegedly attacked the newspaper anyway, despite the original column's author and editor no longer working there.
Here are the five victims of Thursday's shooting:
1. Gerald Fischman
According to multiple sources quoted in the Capital Gazette's moving tribute to Fischman, the editor and editorialist was a "peculiar and endearing figure in a newsroom full of characters." He worked at the paper for over 25 years, and as reporter Erin Cox put it, he "was the conscience and voice of the Annapolis news organization."
Fischman was described as a not particularly social presence, but rather someone who immersed his time and energy in ensuring precision and clarity in the articles published by the Capital Gazette. And his approval did not come easy. Jamie Benoit, a councilman for Anne Arundel County, told the Capital Gazette, "He [Fischman] asked tough questions and exposed every weakness in my legislative record. He treated council races like they were presidential races.”
Tirelessly dedicated to the paper, Fischman stunned his colleagues with the announcement that he had recently married an opera singer from Mongolia. One reporter said that when he asked how the two had met, Fischman replied, "I typed ‘Mongolian opera singer’ into a dating site." He did not elaborate further, a likely example of the "wry wit" that Cox suggested was often hidden by Fischman's quietness.
2. Rob Hiaasen
The sheer length of Rob Hiaasen's tribute speaks to the immense impact he had during his years at the paper. Numerous sources — from colleagues to former reporters he mentored to family members — all lauded the character and writerly skill of Hiaasen.
A graduate of Stanford University, Hiaasen spent his career working in journalism. After many years writing at the Baltimore Sun, Hiaasen came to the Capital Gazette in 2010. According to reporter Jean Marbella, he was awarded first prize this year by the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Press Association for a feature column. The award-winning piece focused on Hiaasen's childhood obliviousness to the enforced segregation at a beloved beach he grew up visiting in Ft. Lauderdale.
Hiaasen is the younger brother of best-selling novelist and Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen.
Marbella reports that Hiaasen was given the nickname "Big Rob" while his three children were in high school. His wife, Maria Hiaasen, told the paper, "He was a tall man, 6-foot-5, but he was a giant not just in stature but in character."
Reporters who were mentored by Hiaasen echoed Maria's characterization. Referring to a human interest story Hiaasen encouraged her to write, former reporter Tina Reed said, "He just kept pushing for the humanity of the story."
According to Marbella, Hiaasen was hired at the Capital Gazette for his humor and his ability to forge a human connection through the stories he wrote.
3. John McNamara
According to Jeff Barker, a former colleague of John McNamara, the sports reporter was a lover of rock and folk music — including the Indigo Girls, whose concert he attended.
That might not be the most obvious place to picture a sports reporter, but according to sources cited by the Capital Gazette, McNamara's love of the game has never been in question. It just wasn't his sole interest.
McNamara is survived by his wife, Andrea Chamblee, who told the Annapolis paper their only fight as a couple was "who was lucky enough to have the other." She said McNamara was "devoted to his friends and family. He was devoted to his craft and he was devoted to me.”
Friends and colleagues remembered McNamara's humorous one-liners. And Barker also described him as "a loyal friend with an infectious laugh," noting "he was a willing mentor for young journalists."
4. Rebecca Smith
According to Capital Gazette reporter Jessica Anderson, sales assistant Rebecca Smith had not been working long for the paper. But Smith had "already proved herself a valuable asset."
Marty Padden, advertising director for the paper, described Smith as "a very thoughtful person" who was "kind and considerate, and willing to help when needed."
On her Facebook page, Smith described herself as "Dog Mom. Softball Fiance. Bonus Mom to the best kid ever." According to Kelli Peleska, a player on the same softball team as Smith's fiance, "She [Smith] was the absolute most beautiful person." Peleska also told the Capital Gazette that Smith was very close with her fiance's daughter, commenting that the young girl "totally idolized" Smith. “They had such an amazing relationship," Peleska said.
5. Wendi Winters
Wendi Winters didn't start her career as a journalist. She worked in fashion, running a boutique agency in New York City after graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in fashion design. But Winters eventually earned a spot as a reporter at the Capital Gazette, spending a dozen years prior working as a freelancer for the paper, according to Yvonne Wenger.
Former community news editor for the paper, Leslie Hunt, described Winters to the paper as "dedicated" and someone who "loved the work." Column topics covered a range of interests for Winters, who often wrote "Home of the Week" and "Teen of the Week" features. Winters also seemed to value her unique perspective in a newspaper setting, writing online that her experience in the business world and as a mother informed her reporting, rather than "four years at a j-school."
Kathryn Flynn, another editor with the Capital Gazette, said Winters "really loved storytelling" and "working with people." According to Wenger, Winters came from a "strong, pro-military family." In fact, one of her most recent pieces at the newspaper was a feature on high school students who were headed to military academies.
Winters also wrote for other publications, and organized the annual P.R. Bazaar event for the paper.
Thursday's mass shooting has been a stunning tragedy for the five victims, their friends and families, and the Capital Gazette. But it is clear from the profiles offered by the paper, this is also an enormous loss for the local community — and the larger community of journalists as well.