Po­lice called news­room sus­pect no threat

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Brian Witte

AN­NAPO­LIS, MD. » The man ac­cused of killing five peo­ple at a Mary­land news­pa­per was in­ves­ti­gated five years ago for a bar­rage of men­ac­ing tweets against the daily, but a de­tec­tive con­cluded he was no threat, and the pa­per didn’t want to press charges for fear of in­flam­ing the sit­u­a­tion, ac­cord­ing to a po­lice re­port re­leased Fri­day.

The news­pa­per was afraid of “putting a stick in a bee­hive.”

The 2013 po­lice re­port added to the pic­ture emerg­ing of Jar­rod W. Ramos, 38, as the for­mer in­for­ma­tion­tech­nol­ogy em­ployee with a long­time grudge against The Cap­i­tal of An­napo­lis was charged with five counts of first-de­gree mur­der in one of the dead­li­est at­tacks on jour­nal­ists in U.S. his­tory.

Au­thor­i­ties said Ramos bar­ri­caded the rear exit of the of­fice to pre­vent any­one from es­cap­ing and me­thod­i­cally blasted his way through the news­room Thurs­day with a 12-gauge pump-ac­tion shot­gun, gun­ning down one vic­tim try­ing to slip out the back.

Three edi­tors, a re­porter and a sales as­sis­tant were killed.

“The fel­low was there to kill as many peo­ple as he could,” Anne Arun­del County Po­lice Chief Timothy Al­tomare said.

Ramos, clean-shaven with long hair past his shoul­ders, was de­nied bail in a brief court ap­pear­ance he at­tended by video, watch­ing at­ten­tively but say­ing noth­ing.

Au­thor­i­ties said he was “un­co­op­er­a­tive” with in­ter­roga­tors. He was placed on a sui­cide watch in jail. His pub­lic de­fend­ers had no com­ment.

The charges carry a max­i­mum penalty of life with­out pa­role. Mary­land has no death penalty.

The blood­shed ini­tially stirred fears that the re­cent surge of po­lit­i­cal at­tacks on the “fake news me­dia” had ex­ploded into vi­o­lence. But by all ac­counts, Ramos had a spe­cific, long­stand­ing griev­ance against the pa­per.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who rou­tinely calls re­porters “liars” and “en­e­mies of the peo­ple,” said, “Jour­nal­ists, like all Amer­i­cans, should be free from the fear of be­ing vi­o­lently at­tacked while do­ing their jobs.”

Ramos had filed a defama­tion law­suit against the pa­per in 2012 after it ran an ar­ti­cle about him plead­ing guilty to ha­rass­ing a woman. A judge later threw it out as ground­less. Ramos had re­peat­edly tar­geted staffers with an­gry, pro­fan­ity-laced tweets.

“There’s clearly a his­tory there,” the po­lice chief said.

Ramos launched so many so­cial me­dia at­tacks that re­tired pub­lisher Tom Mar­quardt called po­lice in 2013.

Al­tomare dis­closed Fri­day that a de­tec­tive in­ves­ti­gated those con­cerns, hold­ing a con­fer­ence call with an at­tor­ney for the pub­lish­ing com­pany, a for­mer cor­re­spon­dent and the pa­per’s pub­lisher.

The po­lice re­port said the at­tor­ney pro­duced a trove of tweets in which Ramos “makes men­tion of blood in the wa­ter, jour­nal­ist hell, hit man, open sea­son, glad there won’t be mur­der­ous ram­page, mur­der ca­reer.”

The de­tec­tive, Michael Pra­ley, said in the re­port that he “did not be­lieve that Mr. Ramos was a threat to em­ploy­ees” at the pa­per, not­ing that Ramos hadn’t tried to en­ter the build­ing and hadn’t sent “di­rect, threat­en­ing cor­re­spon­dence.”

“As of this writ­ing the Cap­i­tal will not pur­sue any charges,” Pra­ley wrote. “It was de­scribed as putting a stick in a bee­hive which the Cap­i­tal News­pa­per rep­re­sen­ta­tives do not wish to do.”

Mar­quardt, the for­mer pub­lisher, said he talked with the news­pa­per’s at­tor­neys about seek­ing a re­strain­ing or­der but didn’t be­cause he and oth­ers thought it could pro­voke Ramos into some­thing worse.

“We de­cided to take the course of lay­ing low,” he said Fri­day.

Later, in 2015, Ramos tweeted that he would like to see the pa­per stop pub­lish­ing, but “it would be nicer” to see two of its jour­nal­ists “cease breath­ing.”

Then Ramos “went silent” for more than two years, Mar­quardt said.

“This led us to be­lieve that he had moved on, but for what­ever rea­son, he de­cided to res­ur­rect his is­sue with The Cap­i­tal yes­ter­day,” the for­mer pub­lisher said. “We don’t know why.”

The po­lice chief said some new posts went up just be­fore the killings but au­thor­i­ties didn’t know about them un­til af­ter­ward.

Few de­tails were re­leased on Ramos, other than that he is sin­gle, has no chil­dren and lives in an apart­ment in Lau­rel, Mary­land. He was em­ployed by an IT con­trac­tor for the U.S. La­bor De­part­ment’s Bureau of La­bor Statis­tics from 2007 to 2014, a de­part­ment spokesman said.

The ram­page be­gan with a shot­gun blast that shat­tered the glass en­trance to the open news­room. Ramos care­fully planned the at­tack, us­ing “a tac­ti­cal ap­proach in hunt­ing down and shoot­ing the in­no­cent peo­ple,” prose­cu­tor Wes Adams said. He said the gun­man had an es­cape plan, too, but would not elab­o­rate.

Jour­nal­ists crawled un­der desks and sought other hid­ing places, de­scrib­ing ag­o­niz­ing min­utes of ter­ror as they heard the gun­man’s foot­steps and the re­peated blasts.

“I was curled up, try­ing not to breathe, try­ing not to make a sound, and he shot peo­ple all around me,” photographer Paul Gille­spie, who dove be­neath a desk, told The Bal­ti­more Sun, owner of the An­napo­lis pa­per.

Gille­spie said he heard a col­league scream, “No!” A gun­shot blast fol­lowed. He heard an­other co-worker’s voice, then an­other shot.

Some 300 of­fi­cers ar­rived and be­gan to corner Ramos within two min­utes, a rapid re­sponse that “with­out ques­tion” saved lives, Al­tomare said. Ramos was hid­ing un­der a desk and did not ex­change fire with po­lice.

Ramos was iden­ti­fied with the help of fa­cial recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy be­cause of what the po­lice chief said was a “lag” in get­ting re­sults from the com­puter sys­tem used to an­a­lyze fin­ger­prints. Po­lice de­nied news re­ports that Ramos had mu­ti­lated his fin­ger­tips to thwart his iden­ti­fi­ca­tion.

Two of­fi­cials told The Associated Press on Thurs­day night, based on pre­lim­i­nary in­for­ma­tion, that the gun­man may have de­lib­er­ately dam­aged his fin­gers.

The chief said Ramos’ shot­gun was legally pur­chased about a year ago de­spite his guilty plea in the ha­rass­ment case. He also car­ried smoke grenades, au­thor­i­ties said.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors are re­view­ing Ramos’ so­cial me­dia post­ings and searched his apart­ment, where Al­tomare said they found ev­i­dence of the plan­ning of the at­tack. The chief would not give de­tails.

Those killed in­cluded Rob Hi­aasen, 59, the pa­per’s as­sis­tant man­ag­ing ed­i­tor and brother of nov­el­ist Carl Hi­aasen. Also slain were edi­to­rial page ed­i­tor Ger­ald Fis­chman, spe­cial projects ed­i­tor Wendi Win­ters, re­porter John McNa­mara and sales as­sis­tant Re­becca Smith.

The city of An­napo­lis an­nounced a vigil for the vic­tims Fri­day night at a pub­lic square near the State House.

Associated Press writ­ers Eric Tucker in Wash­ing­ton; Michael Bal­samo in Los An­ge­les; Michael Kun­zel­man in An­napo­lis; and Sarah Rankin and Denise Lavoie in Rich­mond, Va., con­trib­uted to this story, as did the AP News Re­search Cen­ter in New York.

A memo­rial for Cap­i­tal Gazette sports writer John McNa­mara is dis­played at a seat in the press box be­fore a baseball game be­tween the Bal­ti­more Orioles and the Los An­ge­les An­gels, Fri­day, June 29, 2018, in Bal­ti­more. McNa­mara is one of five vic­tims in a shoot­ing in the news­pa­per’s news­room Thurs­day in An­napo­lis, Md. (AP Photo/Gail Bur­ton)

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