By Timothy Williams and Amy Harmon
Jarrod W. Ramos, who law enforcement sources say used a shotgun to blast his way into the Capital Gazette newsroom on Thursday, killing five people and wounding two others, had a long-running dispute with the news organization.
Ramos was charged with five counts of murder in Thursday's attack.
Police identified the victims as Gazette assistant managing editor Rob Hiaasen, 59, community news reporter Wendi Winters, 64; editorial page editor Gerald Fischman, 61; senior writer John McNamara, 56; and recently hired sales assistant Rebecca Smith, 34.
Ramos had previously made “general threats” against the community newspaper company over social media, including some as recent as Thursday, said William Krampf, Anne Arundel County’s acting police chief. The threats “indicated violence,” Krampf said.
Ramos, who is in his late 30s, was arrested after the attack. He was found hiding under a desk.
As recently as 2012, Ramos worked for the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. He has a degree in computer engineering.
His feud with The Capital, the chain’s daily newspaper, apparently began with a column in 2011 that detailed his alleged harassment of a high school classmate.
After Ramos reconnected with the classmate in 2009, his emails to her soon turned venomous.
“He seems to think there’s some sort of relationship here that does not exist,” the woman told a judge, according to court documents in a harassment case she brought against Ramos. “I tried to back away from it, and he just started getting angry and vulgar to the point I had to tell him to stop.”
After she told him not to contact her again, Ramos wrote in a 2010 email that the woman should “go hang yourself.”
Weeks later, the woman was put on probation at the bank where she worked. A supervisor told her it was because Ramos had sent an email – and had also called the bank – telling managers that the bank should fire her.
A judge gave Ramos a 90-day sentence, but suspended the jail time. Instead, Ramos was granted probation before judgment. He was ordered not to contact the woman and to continue getting therapy.
Not long afterward, The Capital published the column that apparently fueled his anger.
Ramos filed a lawsuit against the owners of The Capital in 2012, claiming that it had defamed him in reporting that Ramos had pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor criminal harassment charge.
Months later, he filed a fuller complaint alleging invasion of privacy, but the lawsuit was dismissed by a judge the next year because Ramos was unable to describe how he had been harmed by the newspaper article.
Ramos, who represented himself in the case, appealed the decision. But in 2015 an appellate court affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of the lawsuit, stating that Ramos showed little knowledge of defamation law and seemed not to “have learned his lesson.”
Tom Marquardt, a former executive editor and publisher at the newspaper, said Thursday night that he had long feared Ramos might resort to a violent act against the newspaper.
“I said at one time to my attorneys that this was a guy that was going to come and shoot us,” Marquardt said. “I was concerned on my behalf and on behalf of my staff that he was going to take more than legal action.”
In November 2011, Ramos began tweeting under an account he called @EricHartleyFrnd, in which he mocked the column about him, by reporter Eric Hartley, in The Capital, posted screenshots of court documents relating to a defamation case he had filed against the newspaper, and railed against newspaper employees. His tweets were laced with profanity and often addressed Capital employees directly, as though he were having an ongoing conversation with them.
“See Tom, both choices were wrong,” he wrote on Nov. 12, 2012, apparently referring to Marquardt. “You already chose that long ago. But to print it was far more wrong. That was true to your form as well.”
On April 23, 2013, he addressed Rob Hiaasen, who was one of the people killed in the Thursday shooting:
“Rob Hiaasen, you’re one of his enabled a--hole aristocrats @capgaznews. Come punitive damages, you’re still not ready. Love, /The Killjoy/.”
The account went quiet after a tweet on Jan. 21, 2016.
But on Thursday, Ramos tweeted again, addressing a profanity to a Twitter handle that he appears to have created based on a judge in the defamation case, @judgemoylanfrnd.