Tom Marquardt, the former editor and publisher of the Capital Gazette, could have easily found himself in the cross-hairs of Jarrod Ramos, the man responsible for busting into the paper’s newsroom and killing five staffers with his pump action shotgun.
Lucky for Marquardt, he had already retired from the newspaper. But three years after the brutal massacre in Annapolis, Maryland, Marquardt’s innocence is gone, replaced by a Heckler & Koch VP9 and a .357 Smith and Wesson, both loaded with hollow point bullets.
Marquardt, who was against guns his whole life, found himself changed forever on that brutal day.
“I never thought I’d live to see the day where I have weapons, plural, in my house,” said Marquardt, 73, who added that the loaded weapons are with him every night in his bedroom while he sleeps. “I was never a gun-toter, I was never a gun owner. But here I am, trying to safeguard my domicile and my family.”
As Marquardt and his wife make plans to go back to training at their favorite gun range — The Alamo — a jury will decide whether Ramos, the man who pleaded guilty and admitted to killing his colleagues, should spend the rest of his days in a prison cell or under psychiatric supervision at a maximum security hospital.
“I don’t believe that, in my mind, that this guy’s insane. I think he should get what’s due to him,” Marquardt said, moments before the dedication ceremony for the memorial honoring his slain coworkers on the anniversary of the shooting. “He deserves the extent of the law, and whatever that is, for him to stay in jail for the rest of his life.”
Attorneys representing Ramos declined to comment.
Ramos’ rage at the paper started in 2011, when a former high school classmate of the gunman filed a complaint against him for stalking. And after Ramos pleaded guilty to the stalking charge, the Capital Gazette ran a column about the case, drawing the shooter’s fury.
Ramos tried to sue the paper for defamation but ultimately lost. A court of appeals upheld the decision in 2015. And roughly three years later, Ramos executed his revenge plot, even sending a letter to a Capital Gazette attorney and the Maryland Court of Special Appeals judge, telling them that it was his intention to kill as many people as possible.
On June 28, 2018, Ramos barricaded the back door so no one could escape and then began “systemically hunting and killing,” said the Anne Arundel County State Attorney at the time, Wes Adams, days after the shooting.
Ramos shot at least one person who tried to escape through a barricaded door, Adams had said days later. The gunman, who used a 12-gauge pump action shotgun and carried smoke grenades, was found hiding behind a desk when police stormed into the office.
He was charged with five counts of first degree murder.
“The fella was there to kill as many people as he could kill,” said former Maryland Police Chief Timothy Altomare, at a news conference shortly after the shooting.
Five people were killed in the attack: Gerald Fischman, 61; Rob Hiaasen, 59; John McNamara, 56; Rebecca Smith, 34; and Wendi Winters, 65. Two other employees were wounded in the shooting. They were all Marquardt’s friends.
The judge presiding over the case says it should take 10 business days for prosecutors and defense attorneys to present their witnesses before the jury will decide Ramos’ fate.
Marquardt wasn’t working at the Capital Gazette when Ramos stormed in and killed five staffers. He had retired in 2012, though he still writes a wine column once a week for the paper.
When the shooting happened, Marquardt was in fact already living in Naples, Florida, and returned to Maryland after the attack to comfort his colleagues. When a lawyer for the paper called him, he told him to be careful — Ramos had Marquardt’s name and address. After some convincing from friends in law enforcement, that’s when the lifelong newspaper man decided to get a gun.
“You don’t have the safety that you once had,” Marquardt said. “You don’t have this confidence that the world is right, and that you’re not one of the people that is going to be next in a mass shooting. This came close.”
Three years later, Marquardt says he’s not only tortured by the fact that the gunmen killed his coworkers, who weren’t even working at the Capital Gazette when the original piece about Ramos was published, but also by how easily the shooter — or anyone else — could march into a room and murder people with a pump-action shotgun.
And for Marquardt, who was shaken after the shooting, he knew he couldn’t just rely on a baseball bat. Not after what he knew happened to his friends.
“Where will it be next?” Marquardt wonders. “Is it going to be a movie theater? Is it going to be a shopping mall? Is it going to be a school somewhere? No place is safe.”