Essay: Annapolis’ heartbreak is all of ours
July 3, 2018
No way the paper would come out the next day, my family told each other Thursday night. At 2:43 p.m. a gunman had raged into the offices of our hometown newspaper, killing five people. I grew up in Annapolis, Maryland, where my mother still lives.
They hadn't yet heard the now-famous words of the stalwart reporter Chase Cook, who said, "I can tell you this: We are putting out a damn paper tomorrow." They couldn't possibly imagine that two reporters would work across the street from their shuttered, bloodied, glass-shattered office, hunkering down in the Annapolis Mall parking lot, researching and writing in the back of a pickup truck using laptops and charging their cell phones by turning on the engine.
The next morning, my sister Lucy, visiting "home" — we all still call it that — walked out to the mailbox. There it was, the paper, thunderous in its silent presence, bearing the stark headline, "5 Shot at The Capital" and opening to a blank, wrenching editorial containing only the words "We are speechless" and five names. With bottomless respect we all pictured the reporters, traumatized and sleep-deprived, working in the dark. One of them wrote all five obituaries.
All my life, every day, The Capital Gazette has appeared in my parents' mailbox. On Friday it was a repository of anguish and dedication.
Going online in dread, I scanned the names of the five gunned down. I could so easily have known them, whether professionally or from high school or third grade, or as a friend of a friend. Someone from my high school shared a link to a "Home of the Week" feature about her parents and their house, as written last year by Wendi Winters. Wendi, killed Thursday, also for many years wrote "Teen of the Week" profiles.
She had worked with Joshua McKerrow, one of pickup-truck reporters, on another "Home of the Week" piece only Tuesday.
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"They're not mansions or anything like that," McKerrow told NPR on Friday afternoon. "It's just people's homes." He said the section was the most popular in the newspaper.
It's just people's homes. It's just my hometown newspaper. Newspapers inform us, make us better citizens, hold the powerful and responsible to account, shine a light on those who need to change or need our help. Community newspapers are very meaningful to people who live in or care about an area.
Looking back, I see The Capital covering the things it should — politics, arts, education, crime, weather, and fishery and boating news, and also offering pictures of Fourth of July fireworks, kids and dogs. The Burnett boys down the street delivered it on their bikes, and when they got older, their sister Laura — my friend — delivered it on her bike.
In myriad ways, the newspaper tracked our lives. In its columns we saw our school plays and games, read about friends, read letters to the editor, saw or were connected to notices on births, graduations, weddings, deaths. I will never forget, at age 11, turning a page and seeing my name in a gentle review of a Children's Theatre production. I laugh to think of the time my friends Leslie Taylor, who welcomed me to a new school in ninth grade, and Clem Knox called in sick to school, and the next day the paper came out with a big, above-the-fold pic of Clem helping put up tent poles for the visiting circus. Or the photo of an information kiosk floating on the waters just off the City Dock, put there "by unknown pranksters," known to some of us.
When my high school's "Minigym," which housed our assemblies and plays, burned down, the paper was there. Three years ago the historic Annapolis Yacht Club, where we as a sailing family docked our boat, burned, and I hastened to the Capital website for images and information. Same in times of blizzards or floods.
The Capital published my father's obituary, and later my stepfather's. Five years ago, when Leslie died after a long battle with cancer, her mother asked me to write the obit for her. I stayed up late trying to sum up Les' abilities and generosity, and was able to share her final, predawn hours, when — her mother sitting nightlong vigil beside her — Leslie, who had been silent since afternoon, hummed "Amazing Grace."
Long ago, just out of college, I applied for a job at The Capital. Tom Marquardt, editor, met with me. I had bylines in several area newspapers, but lacked real reporting experience. Tom was kind and respectful, encouraged me to work and write more. Over the years I came again into the Capital offices and placed some travel articles and later an essay. My mother wrote for the paper as well.
Jarrod Ramos, 39, is in custody after the shooting. In 2011 he pleaded guilty to criminal harassment, and the paper covered the case. The next year a judge dismissed a defamation case by Ramos, because the article was accurate. In 2013 Tom Marquardt called police over the man's escalating threats. Last week Ramos spilled the lifeblood of a community.
Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and is an editor at Rock and Ice magazine.