By Gary Gately and Sabrina Tavernise
ANNAPOLIS, Md. – A Maryland man who had a grudge against an Annapolis newspaper was charged Friday with five counts of murder a day after police said he used a pump-action shotgun to shoot his way into the newsroom of the Capital Gazette.
The man, Jarrod W. Ramos, 38, appeared in state District Court by a video feed and was denied bail. He did not speak and showed no emotion, staring into the camera and occasionally blinking.
The arraignment came as authorities released additional details about the shooting – including that the gunman had barricaded the back door to the newspaper to prevent people from fleeing, and offered more information on how the suspect was identified.
Speaking outside the courtroom, Wes Adams, the Anne Arundel County state’s attorney, said one of the victims had tried to escape through the blocked door.
Earlier Friday, Timothy Altomare, the Anne Arundel County police chief, said that facial recognition technology played a crucial role in helping police identify Ramos as a suspect. Police first tried to learn his identity through his fingerprints, but the fingerprint identification system was moving slowly, so police moved on to using facial recognition, the chief said. A photo of the suspect was sent to the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center, which searched the repository of driver’s license photos and mug shots to find a match. County police said reports of the suspect having mutilated his fingertips were not correct.
President Donald Trump on Friday called the shooting a “horrible, horrible event.”
“This attack shocked the conscience of the nation and filled our hearts with grief,” Trump said at the White House. “Journalists, like all Americans, should be free from the fear of being violently attacked while doing their jobs.”
“My government will not rest until we have done everything in our power to reduce violent crime and to protect innocent life,” he added.
A vigil was planned for Friday night amid an outpouring of condolences and support for the families of the victims. And the newspaper’s journalists struggled in their grief as they went about the job of reporting and editing a story that involved them.
Ramos’ neighborhood in nearby Laurel is home to families from Pakistan, India, Nigeria and Kenya. Yawar Hamid, 33, owner of Indus Food, the grocery store across the street from Ramos’ apartment complex, sells night blooming orchids, newspapers in Urdu, and giant bags of basmati rice.
Hamid said he did not know Ramos, but said he was angry that he was not being called a terrorist.
Ramos’ apartment and car were searched overnight, Altomare said, and some evidence has been found.
“There are no other suspects we’re looking for night now,” the chief said.
Altomare said that Ramos had a history with police that included a 2013 threat against the Capital Gazette, which produces a number of local newspapers along Maryland’s shore.
“This was a targeted attack,” Altomare said. “We can’t fathom why this person chose to do this.”
At the time, the chief said, the newspaper decided not to pursue any charges against Ramos.
“It is fully documented and was investigated,” Altomare said on “CBS This Morning.” Managers of the paper and police investigators “came to a shared conclusion that carrying action further might exacerbate the situation.”
The chilling attack was covered in real time by some of the journalists who found themselves under siege. A crime reporter, Phil Davis, described how the gunman “shot through the glass door to the office” before opening fire on employees.
“There is nothing more terrifying than hearing multiple people get shot while you’re under your desk and then hear the gunman reload,” Davis wrote.
The gunman was silent as he stalked the newsroom, stopping once to reload as journalists huddled in fear under their desks, Davis said in a telephone interview. Once police arrived, staff members put their hands in the air and shouted, “We’re not him,” Davis recalled. The gunman was hiding under a desk as police moved in. He did not exchange gunfire with officers when he was taken in.
“He didn’t have enough bullets for us,” Davis said, struggling to grapple with the images of his fallen colleagues. “It was terrifying to know he didn’t have enough bullets to kill everyone in that office, and had to get more.”
After his arrest, Ramos refused to cooperate with authorities or provide his name. He was identified using facial recognition technology, said a law enforcement official who was not authorized to speak on the record.
In July 2012, Ramos filed a defamation lawsuit in Maryland’s Prince George’s County Circuit Court against Capital Gazette Communications, its then editor and publisher and a former reporter, claiming that his reputation had been damaged after the newspaper published a story the prior year about Ramos’ guilty plea in a harassment case. Three months later, he filed a fuller complaint alleging invasion of privacy.
The lawsuit was later dismissed with prejudice by Judge Maureen M. Lamasney after a March 2013 hearing, in which she asked Ramos to identify anything that was falsely reported in the July 2011 article and to cite examples about how he had been harmed. He was unable to do so, according to a partial transcript of the hearing published in an appellate court decision two years later.
Ramos represented himself and, according to the appellate decision that later affirmed the dismissal, showed no understanding of defamation law.
The article was published in July 2011 with the headline “Jarrod Wants to Be Your Friend,” and detailed a harassment charge against Ramos. According to the article, Ramos sent a friend request on Facebook to a former high school classmate and over the course of several months, he “alternately asked for help, called her vulgar names and told her to kill herself.”
The harassment continued for nearly a year. He pleaded guilty in July 2011 to harassment and was sentenced to 18 months of supervised probation and ordered to attend counseling.
According to the article, Ramos had a degree in computer engineering and at the time had worked for six years for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Late Thursday night, the dead were identified as Gerald Fischman, 61, the newsroom’s editorial page editor; Rob Hiaasen, 59, an editor and features columnist; John McNamara, 56, a sports reporter and editor for the local weekly papers; Wendi Winters, 65, a local news reporter and community columnist; and Rebecca Smith, a sales assistant.