A man with a vendetta against an Annapolis newspaper fired a shotgun through the newsroom’s glass doors and at employees, killing five and injuring two others Thursday in a targeted shooting, according to police.
The identities of all of the victims are unknown, but the attack likely is the deadliest involving journalists in the United States in decades.
Local police said the Capital Gazette was targeted in the Maryland incident that prompted heightened security in newsrooms around the country.
Police, who arrived at the shooting scene within a minute of the reported gunfire, apprehended a single gunman found hiding under a desk in the newsroom, according to the county’s executive.
The suspected gunman, who authorities have not yet identified, was not cooperating with police investigators. He carried cannisters with smoke grenades that he used inside the building, police said.
“This person was prepared today to come in, this person was prepared to shoot people,” Acting Anne Arundel County Police Chief William Krampf said. “His intent was to cause harm.”
Among those killed was the veteran columnist, editor and journalism teacher Rob Hiaasen.
Hiaasen, 59, the brother of best-selling author and journalist Carl Hiaasen, had been a feature writer at the Baltimore Sun for 15 years before moving to the Capital in 2010 as an assistant editor.
The motive of the gunman still remains unclear, but police said the newsroom had recently received threats of violence through social media.
“There is nothing more terrifying than hearing multiple people get shot while you’re under your desk and then hear the gunman reload,” Gazette reporter Phil Davis said on Twitter.
Davis described scene as a “war zone” and a situation that would be “hard to describe for a while,” in a subsequent news story posted to the daily newspaper’s website within 45 minutes of the shooting.
Police swarmed the area about four miles west of Maryland’s state house to clear the scene and evacuate more than 170 occupants of the office building to a nearby mall.
“It appears to be the act of a lone shooter,” Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh said. “It does not appear to be a particularly well-planned operation.”
The Capital Gazette, Annapolis’s daily paper, is widely read in Maryland’s state capital and in surrounding Anne Arundel County, where it is headquartered.
The newspaper touts itself as one of the oldest publishers in the country, with roots going back to the Maryland Gazette in 1727.
“Devastated & heartbroken. Numb,” Gazette editor Jimmy DeButts said on Twitter. “Please stop asking for information/interviews. I’m in no position to speak, just know @capgaznews reporters & editors give all they have every day. There are no 40 hour weeks, no big paydays – just a passion for telling stories from our communty.”
The shooting unfolded at around 3 p.m. in a brown five-story office building just outside downtown Annapolis.
In an interview with a local ABC affiliate, a man who works in the building said he heard an “incredibly loud bang” and looked out his office to see a man surrounded by shattered glass holding a gun at the front door of the Capital Gazette.
“This guy was holding what looked like a big shotgun and moving across the entrance of the Capital Gazette office, pointing the gun deeper into the office like he was targeting people,” the man said.
First responders entered the building within 60 seconds, and immediately encountered a woman with life threatening injuries and other wounded people before finding the suspect under a desk, Schuh said. He said no gunfire was exchanged between the shooter and police.
Four died on scene and one woman was pronounced dead after she was transported to Maryland shock trauma, Schuh said.
Police carrying automatic weapons rushed about 170 office workers with their hands raised above their heads out of the building to a department store across the street.
“I was so scared,” said Rayne Foster, who worked on the fourth floor. “I was very scared.”
Locked in a room with about a dozen others, Foster had sent a text to her daughter: “There’s an active shooter. I love you.”
“I was taking deep breaths,” she said. “We could hear them busting out the glass doors and windows. It was so surreal.”
Karen Burd, 27, was on her fourth day at work in a tax litigation firm in the building when a co-worker told her there was an active shooter.
Her first thought was to find a room in which to barricade themselves. She and four others crammed into the room and called 911. Soon, police were banging on the door.
“I started praying,” she said tears filling her eyes. “You just think is this going to be my last day.”
Police brought in the bomb squad to investigate a knapsack carrying some sort of device found near the suspected shooter.
“It was quite obvious that this person had some sort of vendetta against the Capital newspaper,” said Lt. Ryan Frashure, a county police spokesman.
Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley said police had practiced active shooter training last week.
“If they [law enforcement] were not there as quickly as they did it could have been a lot worse,” Buckley said. “We did not expect this to happen in our community, but I dont think we could have been any more ready. “
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said also commended the quick police response.
“It’s a tragic siutation, but there were some very brave people who came in and kept it form being worse and the response time was incredible,” Hogan said standing with police and local officials at the scene.
The impact of the shooting reverberated through newsrooms outside of Maryland. New York City Police said it “deployed counterterrorism teams to media organizations” in and around the city “out of an abundance of caution.” The Washington Post and other outlets also increased newsroom security.
The paper with an editorial staff of 31 people has a daily circulation of around 29,000 and Sunday circulation of 34,000 as of 2014.
Commonly referred to as the Capital, the paper was founded in 1884 as the Evening Gazette. The Baltimore Sun Media Group–owned by Tronc Inc. of Chicago–bought the paper in 2014 from Norfolk, Va.-based Landmark Media Enterprises. The new owners converted it from an afternoon publication into a morning paper in 2015.
The paper had previously been part-owned by the late Philip Merrill, the owner and publisher of Washingtonian magazine.
The paper traces its roots to a related paper, the twice-weekly Maryland Gazette, which was founded in 1727 in Annapolis and is one of America’s oldest periodicals. One of the Maryland Gazette’s first publishers was a protege of Benjamin Franklin. An early editor and publisher, Anne Catherine Hoof Green, one of the first women to hold such a job at an American newspaper.
“Founded by British journalist William Parks, the Maryland Gazette recorded several achievements during its illustrious history,” the newspaper says on its website. “In 1767 Anne Catharine Green became the first female newspaper publisher in the country and the newspaper fought the dreaded stamp tax that started the American Revolution.”
The Annapolis paper is unrelated to the chain of weekly Gazette papers that were published in the Washington suburbs by The Washington Post until 2015.
The Capital Gazette moved to its offices on Bestgate Road in September 2014. The newsroom is on the first floor of the office building that is easily accessable from the main entrace, Buckley said.
The newsroom is an open space, and “the desk would be the only place you could hide,” Buckley said.
Buckley said Annapolis is a small town where officials all know the newspaper’s reporters, who report on zoning issues, local crime or even a cat stuck in a tree.
“They don’t make a lot of money — maybe $30,000 a year,” Buckley said. “It’s immoral that their lives were at risk.”
Ashley Halsey III, Paul Farhi, Arelis R. Hernández, Peter Hermann, Reis Thebault, Michael Brice-Saddler, Rachel Weiner, Joe Heim and Paul Farhi contributed to this report.