A SNOW GLOBE, A POEM, A HOME
Capital Gazette shooting victims are revealed and recalled in the things they left behind
As he settled into the afternoon’s tasks, John McNamara must have slipped his shoes off under his desk.
Rob Hiaasen likely was tapping away at his own station, kept company by a toy soldier, a snow globe and other desktop ephemera. Sitting next to him was Gerald Fischman, surrounded by books, so many books. Nearby was Wendi Winters, keeper of the office candy jar, and up front, Rebecca Smith, still new to the job but the first face someone would see coming into the Capital Gazette offices in Annapolis.
On June 28, 2018, a gunman shot his way through the front glass doors. He killed the five co-workers as six of their colleagues fled or took cover under desks and between file cabinets. Jarrod Ramos, 39, of Laurel, who harbored a years-long grievance against The Capital, is awaiting trial on murder and assault charges, to which he has pleaded not guilty and not criminally responsible, Maryland’s version of the insanity defense.
One year later, what remains of that terrible day for the families of the victims range from small mementos to larger intangibles: Their belongings, at home or retrieved from the ravaged office. The unfinished projects, the now-scuttled plans. The legacies that will outlast their foreshortened lives.
As they mark the year’s passing, their loved ones reflect on the things they left behind.
In three file boxes, John McNamara had meticulously organized his research for a book on the history of high school basketball in the Washington area, starting in 1900. At the time of his death, he had gotten to 1998.
His wife, Andrea Chamblee, took it from there. During the nights when she couldn’t sleep anyway, she turned his outline and notes into sentences, chapters and finally, a 348-page book that will be published by Georgetown University Press in November, “The Capital of Basketball: A History of DC Area High School Hoops.”
“This is my love letter to John,” she said.
“In many ways, it was a distraction — I would come into an empty house and work on it until after midnight,” Chamblee said. “I do feel like it’s a part of John, and now that it’s finished, I don’t know if I want to share it or keep it for myself.”
McNamara, 56, covered sports for most of his career before becoming several years ago the editor of the Bowie Blade-News, which like the Capital is owned by Baltimore Sun Media. He and Chamblee graduated from the University of Maryland’s journalism school together in 1983; she is now an attorney with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
What she received from her husband’s office in Annapolis fit into a single box, yet it contained multitudes.
There was a pair of loafers, which she imagines her husband having taken off only to be startled by the arrival of the shooter and jumping from his chair without them.
There was also a little reproduction of a Ted Williams Moxie soda ad and four books: a biography of Brooks Robinson, a memoir about baseball and fathers and sons, one that uses storytelling to understand personal finance and a collection of poems by a Bowie-based writer.
“There was so much more to him,” Chamblee said, than of the “sportswriter” tag that usually is attached to his name.
His kindness and love of family, for one thing, she said, whether caring for a family member seriously injured in a car accident or shepherding Chamblee through ultimately unsuccessful fertility treatments.
They had resisted buying a bigger house or newer cars and had calculated to the day when they could retire and travel more. On the day he left their Silver Spring home for the last time, Alexa provided the latest tally.
“1,008 days,” she said.
Two days before she died, Wendi Winters had dinner with her youngest daughter at, appropriately enough, Mother’s Grille in Arnold. As they conversed, Winters, 65, mentioned giving her a pair of her shoes, white and black patent leather ones, that for Summerleigh Geimer were a definite hard pass.
Later, as she and her siblings sorted through their mother’s belongings, “the godawful shoes” popped up, and she took possession. Along with a large signed print by designer Betsy Johnson, they were reminders of her mother’s days as a fashion publicist in New York — and what Geimer calls the funky, vintage style that once prompted she and her siblings to nominate Winters for the fashion makeover show “What Not to Wear.”
With her brother and two sisters living elsewhere last year, she was the one to rush to the scene after learning of the shooting. “I called Mom, and when she didn’t pick up, I knew,” she said. “There’s never been a time when she wouldn’t pick up.”
She waited hours for official confirmation, then made the tough calls to her siblings, all in the Navy.
That a lot of candy was found in Winters’ desk at the Capital is no surprise. She kept both her own and her work family in sweets, said her oldest daughter, Winters Leigh Larca. There would be peppermint bark for Christmas, heart-shaped chocolates
Instead, it is Winters’ ashes that would go abroad. Some were left in Turkey, where she spent some of her childhood, and, some went with her son, Phoenix Geimer, to Italy — fittingly for Winters, he said.
“She kept her passport current no matter what,” he said, even though Winters didn’t travel as much as she wanted. “It was an aspirational passport.”
Phoenix, a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy’s Sixth Fleet headquarters, said his mother had “a very clear sense of how the world worked … and how small changes in one area could lead to big changes in another. She saw how she could make a difference her way to make the world better.”
His sister Montana Geimer, a lieutenant junior grade who now works at Fort Meade, lives in Winters’ home in Edgewater. She helped her mother find the house, which Winters moved into in 2016, the year Montana graduated from the Naval Academy.
Larca, a Navy officer candidate attending Purdue University in Indiana, said you could tell the home was Winters’ the moment you stepped in.
“There was no living room, or sitting area. No couches,” she said. “She set up her office where the living room would be. When I would come for a visit, I would put a chair by her computer to
Rob Hiaasen kisses Maria Hiaasen in a photo on the piano as the widow of the slain newspaper editor looks at family photos on display Tuesday.
Andrea Chamblee, wife of slain Capital Gazette sports journalist John McNamara, stands outside his home office Wednesday.