SUN INVESTIGATES 6 minutes passed before police found shooter
Officers face hard choice to stop suspect, aid injured like in Capital Gazette assault
As prosecutors spent Monday recounting the excruciating timeline of a shooter’s deadly assault on the Capital Gazette and its employees, a surprising new detail emerged. Police spent six minutes in the offices before encountering the gunman.
Officers who rushed into the building didn’t initially see the shooter while helping survivors escape, treating a dying victim and observing the scene of carnage. Six minutes passed before they found and secured the man who gunned down Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters, according to a statement of facts read in Anne
Arundel Circuit Court.
After the shooting, the admitted killer Jarrod Ramos hid under a photographer’s desk, county State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess said in open court. Officers arrested Ramos after he called out: “I surrender, I surrender. I’m your shooter.”
Six minutes may seem like a long time for the shooter to go unnoticed. But it’s not surprising to experts in active shooting situations, who said responses hinge on several variables.
“It is a very complex situation,” retired police captain Ashley Heiberger said. “These active threat situations have so many things going on at once, with so many competing priorities.”
Heiberger, who retired from the Bethlehem (Pennsylvania) Police Department after 21 years, said if officers continue to hear gunshots when entering a building, they will pass by victims and work to confront the shooter. But if there is no audible threat, the former officer said it becomes more complicated.
The details about the 19-minute rampage and chaotic aftermath surfaced when Ramos, 39, pleaded guilty to all 23 counts he was charged with including five counts of murder. Information will continue to be released in the coming weeks after a separate trial is held to determine whether Ramos is deemed criminally responsible.
He pleaded not criminally responsible, which is Maryland’s version of the insanity defense.
Anne Arundel County sheriff’s deputies and officers from the Anne Arundel County and Annapolis police departments converged on the scene within 90 seconds of the 911 call.
In a study of 84 active shooter situations since 2000, the Police Executive Research Forum outlined the difficult choices officers face when arriving at an active scene.
“So you can imagine how long it may take to do a systematic search if you’re in a large office building or a shopping mall. It may take hours, and what’s happening during that time? People who have been shot and wounded are bleeding out and dying,” wrote PERF, a nonprofit think tank, in its report. “So it falls upon our first responders who are inside the scene, the law enforcement officers, to provide immediate lifesaving care to people.”
Heiberger said the response to an active threat can be made even more difficult when several different agencies respond. For example, each one might have their own protocol, he said.
Both the county sheriff’s office and police declined to comment specifically about the shooting, citing the pending trial, or to discuss broader department protocols about active threats.
“There’s no easy answer,” Heiberger said. “These are very, very difficult decisions for policing as a profession.”