Typical afternoon in the newsroom disturbed by a loud bang

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Staff writer Selene San Felice was working on a story when a loud bang shattered the typical office sound of the keyboards, phone calls and the occasional call that a story was ready.

San Felice heard the shots and a break for the door. It would not open.

It was barricaded as part of a targeted attack, which is specifically designed to kill Capital Gazette staff. Employees hid under a desk and did everything she could to stay silent out of fear the gunman would discover.

There were 11 people in the Capital Gazette’s newsroom Thursday. Five were killed. Six other newsroom employees were on vacation, at the office, or with work for the day. Advertising representatives were in Baltimore for a meeting.

Rob Hiaasen, 59; Gerald Fischman, 61; Wendi Winters, 65; John McNamara, 56; and Rebecca Smith, 34, were killed in the attack. Hiaasen, Fischman, Winters and McNamara were editors. Smith was a sales associate who worked in the vicinity of the front door. All were loved by their colleagues.

“I heard the first shot and heard a cry,” San Felice said, with Capital Gazette intern Anthony Messenger. “By the second shot and the third shot, I knew what it was. That’s when I grabbed my bag and said, ” I’m leaving.’ I knew that I was selfish. I knew that something was terribly wrong.”

A man armed with a pump action shotgun blasted his way to the office, Thursday and fired at Capital Gazette staff. The editorial board has a long, L-shaped walkway connects the advertising agencies, the editorial board and the back of the office where sports and government reporters sit.

The shooter had a clear path and vision of the whole office.

Jarrod Warren Ramos, 38, is charged with five counts of first-degree murder and ordered held without bond.

Ramos had a long-cherished resentments, the Capital Gazette, which began in July 2011 after the paper ran a column about a criminal harassment case in which he was involved. In vain he sued the paper for libel.

Reporters who survived the attack, remembered hiding under their desks or scrambling for the door.

They heard shouts of “No” and “Oh God,” just before a shotgun blast and then silence. And then another shotgun blast.

A reporter — who was in the neighborhood one of the editors killed — said that it sounded like asthmatic breathing. Then he stopped.

Writer Phil Davis heard the explosions and recalled thinking it was a shotgun. His desk has a cabinet along the alley where the shooter ran, the hide of Davis.

A colleague was shot a few steps away. Other journalists and friends he would enjoy a drink after work — the hide of a row of desks away.

“I heard a woman scream,” Davis said. “The shots were getting closer as he walked up the alley to the back door and the shooting of people on the road. I knew that someone was killed or very hurt. There were shots after he re-loaded. He reloaded the shells individually. I stayed under my desk in the hope that he didn’t hear me.”

Staff writer Rachael Pacella had received a request from Hiaasen when she heard the shots and immediately went to hide. She changed her mind and made a break for the door. But she tripped and broke her face on the wall.

They ran a concussion, a cut on her face and bruises. She bled profusely while they are encoded in the near of San Felice and Messenger who were hiding in the rear section of the room.

“The whole house smelled of gunpowder,” Pacella said. “When I was hiding, I saw shine a flashlight on the floor, six feet in front of me. That was terrifying. If it is a policeman, that they do not announce themselves . I thought that it was the man.

“A lot of it was focused on survival and keep my breath quiet. I knew I had to be as quiet as I can.”

Photojournalist Paul W. Gillespie was at his desk editing of photos as the shot sounded.

He hid under his desk and “rolled up as small as I could,” he said. He heard his colleagues shout before they were shot.

“I dived under the desk as fast as I could and, by the grace of God, that he did not look over there,” he said. “I was curled up, trying not to breathe, trying not to make a sound, and he shot the people around me.”

After a pause in the recording as Davis heard the shooter reload — Gillespie a break for the door. He jumped over the body of a dead co-worker and it was outside.

The police arrived about a minute after the shooting began, while survivors said it felt more. They swept through the office and collected Pacella, Davis, Messenger, and San Felice. The police moved to the front of the news and left the front door. Pacella was not wearing shoes — she could not remember whether they had ran out of them — so an officer carried her over the broken glass of the front door.

The officers told them not to look.

“In walking forward, we had to walk about an editor,” San Felice said.

Davis said that he was separated from his colleagues after the police arrived. He went with another officer to help him to get access to other parts of the building with his key-card. Davis asked the officer if he could get his mobile phone to call his parents. He had to walk over a body, multiple times.

“I had a family member die from being shot 20 years ago,” Davis said. “I didn’t have to walk over his dead body. It is a different feeling when it happens around you. You’re helpless. You’re hopeless. Then a walk over the bodies of those people who were shot and killed for something they had nothing to do, it is probably something I will never be able to walk. I feel so awful for all of the family.”

San Felice — who have returned to work a day after the shooting — told publishers they want people to know that something had to change, that these murders are not a forgotten fact.

San Felice appeared on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360,” where she swore and said, “I’m going to need more than a few days of news and some thoughts and prayers, because our whole lives are broken.”

These comments drew praise from many. But it also drew out the worst in people.

Some of these critics told San Felice in the messages that Friday, she would have died in the attack.

“That We should not have to die for a level of decency to be maintained,” San Felice said. “We will never get back people like Rob, Gerald, Wendi, and John, and Rebecca.”


Baltimore Sun reporters Kevin Rector and Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs contributed to this report.


Information from: The Capital,

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