BROOKE GLADSTONE From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media, I'm Brooke Gladstone. On Wednesday, jury selection began in the trial for the man who pleaded guilty, but not criminally responsible for reasons of insanity, to killing 5 people at a newspaper in Maryland 3 years ago. This coming week also marks the anniversary of that terrible day.
ANDERSON COOPER The breaking news tonight in America is once again heartbreaking. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE It was on June 28th, 2018, when the scourge of mass shooting found its way inside a newsroom.
NEWS REPORT A shooting this afternoon in Annapolis, Maryland, with multiple people reported shot in the building that houses the Annapolis Capital Gazette. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE For a few days, the news was filled with the images we've come to expect after this kind of crime. The shocked survivors, the candlelight vigils, the calls for tighter gun controls, but then, of course, the news cycle turns to the next thing, and the next...and those who were at the center of the tragedy are forgotten. Chris Benderev, a reporter for the NPR podcast Embedded wanted their stories told. So he went to the Capital Gazette and he stayed there, getting to know the staff of the paper and recording what happened in the aftermath of the shooting and beyond. The story starts in the early hours of the 28th. Photographer Joshua McKerrow had spent the morning at the Naval Academy's induction day. Every year, the people of Annapolis like seeing photos of the young men and women saying goodbye to their parents getting their mandatory haircuts. After getting those shots, McKerrow, a 14-year veteran at the paper, headed home to sift through them.
JOSHUA MCKERROW So I'm driving north on 97, and I see my phone ring and I see that it's Rick.
CHRIS BENDEREV Rick Hutzell is Josh's boss, basically the editor-in-chief of the Capital Gazette.
JOSHUA MCKERROW And he's like, OK, it's probably not true, but I'm hearing word that there was a shooting at Bestgate.
CHRIS BENDEREV Bestgate road, where the newsroom was.
JOSHUA MCKERROW And I can't get a hold of anyone in the office and, at about the exact same moment I'm going north on the highway and roaring south is dozens of emergency vehicles. They must have been going 100 miles an hour like an armada of cars. I could see instantly that this, this was the real thing.
CHRIS BENDEREV They hung up and Josh began driving toward the Capital Gazette's newsroom. When he was at a stoplight, he posted on Twitter: "I'm safe. I wasn't there. I'm on my way." Twitter was starting to fill with little scraps of information. One of the reporters inside the newsroom tweeted: "Active shooter, 888 Bestgate. Please help us." And the person who wrote that tweet, Selene San Felice.
SELENE SAN FELICE I mean, I remember I was working at my desk when I heard the shots.
CHRIS BENDEREV Here's what happened. Around 2:30 in the afternoon, a man with a shotgun fired into and exploded a huge glass door at the entrance of the Capital Gazette newsroom, and then he stepped inside.
PHIL DAVIS I immediately knew something once I heard that first loud crash and I just immediately hit the deck.
CHRIS BENDEREV Phil Davis, a reporter at the paper, hid under his desk. He heard the gunman make his way through the reception area and down the main hallway that ran through the middle of the office, shooting over and over. At one point, the gunman was so close that Phil could hear him reload. But then he kept walking past Phil's desk towards the back of the newsroom where Selene was. She'd been trying to figure out what to do.
SELENE SAN FELICE I said, I'm getting out of here, and I grabbed my purse and I went to the back door, which I was only a couple of steps away from. It was locked.
CHRIS BENDEREV The back door, which was the only other way out of the office, wouldn't open because the gunman had already barricaded it. So, Selene got under a desk next to the intern. They huddled together and tried to keep quiet. Another colleague, Rachael, started running, tripped and fell and then hid behind a filing cabinet. Then another colleague was shot right in front of Selene. But soon after that, the shooting just stopped. Everything got quiet. After the police arrived, they escorted Seline and the others out and told them, Keep your eyes on the deputy in front of you. Do not look around. Nineteen minutes after the shooting started, the cops finally found the gunman and arrested him. He'd been hiding under a desk in the middle of the newsroom. When Josh arrived on the scene, he did what he does when he arrives for any crime story, started snapping photos. He tweeted them out, some of the first pictures of this story anyone sent out to the world. Then Josh walked across the street to where the media were starting to set up shop in the parking lot of a shopping mall with a J.C. Penny near an Ann Taylor near a Sbarro Pizza. And it was in that mall parking lot that Josh, without knowing it, became part of this thing that has ended up defining the Capital Gazette ever since. Because Josh ran into two other reporters from the paper who hadn't been in the newsroom during the shooting, but had also instinctively rushed there as soon as they'd heard, Chase Cook and Pat Furgurson. Chase had had the day off when he'd heard. Pat had been eating a late lunch in the mall's food court. There were some hugs and then without any fanfare, they all started working, reporting, trying to figure out what was going on. They couldn't go back to their newsroom, but they did have the back of Pat's Toyota pickup truck in the mall's parking garage. It had a cigarette lighter where Chase, who didn't even have a laptop on him, could charge his phone. And there were some plastic crates where Josh could prop up his computer to go through photos.
JOSHUA MCKERROW Who was safe? We were making phone calls and checking Twitter and like, oh, you know, Phil's on Twitter, so feels OK. And, you know, somebody sent me a text. I saw Paul here – so OK, Paul's OK.
CHRIS BENDEREV Josh tweeted out the names of some of the coworkers they confirmed were alive, but some of their coworkers hadn't been heard from and had not tweeted. At first, Josh found himself trying to explain it away. Gerald Fischman, the cardigan-wearing editor in his 60s, who liked to communicate with his colleagues by leaving sticky notes on their desks. He had eight followers on Twitter. He wasn't going to tweet about this, Josh told himself. And the same went for 3 other older editors, Rob Hiaasen, Wendi Winters and John McNamara. They wouldn't be rushing to Twitter, Josh thought. But then one of the other reporters working with Josh in that parking lot, Chase Cook, took Josh to the side...
JOSHUA MCKERROW He's like, I talked to Rick. Rick has some names of who's gone. Do you want me to tell you?
CHRIS BENDEREV Rick, the editor-in-chief, had gotten confirmation from the police.
JOSHUA MCKERROW I had one of those moments and it wasn't the first time I had it that day, where I could see the marking line between my old life and my new life. I said, yeah, you know, tell me. And he told me, you know, John and Rob and Gerald and Wendi were gone. I didn't really have time to, like, process it at all because we were, you know, we still had stuff to do.
CHRIS BENDEREV And the stuff they had to do was help out with obituaries about their colleagues, their friends. Josh began scouring his hard drive, trying to pull candid photos that he'd taken over the years of John, Rob, Gerald and Wendi. He didn't want their obits to have those canned picture day photos you can find in the staff section of the company website. Meanwhile, Chase learned something else. In fact, a fifth person had been shot and later died. Rebecca Smith, sales assistant, the friendly face of the front desk. And more was slowly coming out about the suspected gunman, the man police had arrested. He was in his 30s. He lived nearby and he'd had a vendetta against the paper for years. Ever since it had reported on the fact that he was convicted for harassing a woman. He'd sued the Capital Gazette for defamation, then lost the case. In other words, this attack was not random. This was targeted. So, Chase and Pat and Josh had been gathering up some facts, some quotes, some photos, but that begged the question, where would the stuff go? Would there even be an edition to the Capital Gazette tomorrow? And would it include their work? Now, there is a thing you need to know here. The Capital Gazette is actually owned by a bigger paper up the road, the Baltimore Sun. The Sun drops its own stories into the Capitol from time to time. And by now, Sun reporters were in Annapolis covering the story. So tomorrow's Capital could easily be filled with Baltimore Sun stories. They didn't need Chase's or Pat's reporting, or Josh's photos. Still, all 3 of them kept working, uploading whatever they got to the shared server with Baltimore, just like they do with any story. At another point that afternoon, Josh called up a photo editor in Baltimore who worked for both The Sun and the Capital.
JOSHUA MCKERROW I was like, confirm you got the larger sizes for those pictures? He's like, yeah, we got 'em. And I think I said: "I want them to be my photos lead."
CHRIS BENDEREV As lead, meaning the big photo on the front page.
JOSHUA MCKERROW And he was like, absolutely. And I was like, OK. And, and then we hung up the phone and I kind of realized in the back of my head that we had just confirmed that there was going to be a paper.
CHRIS BENDEREV A little later, Chase asked Josh the question outright.
JOSHUA MCKERROW And I remember saying it like a little defensively and like it just a little angrily. I was like, yes, we are putting out a paper tomorrow.
CHRIS BENDEREV After this, Chase sent out a tweet. A tweet that would go on to make him momentarily famous. It read, quote, "I can tell you this, we are putting out a damn paper tomorrow." Survivors of mass shootings often talk about experiencing a devastating lack of control. And it was the same for the Capital Gazette. People told me they felt helpless in the moment. Doing journalism, documenting what was happening to them, even in small ways, that was the first chance to get a little bit of control back. And it wasn't just Josh and Chase and Pat who were doing it. Their boss, Rick Hutzell, proofread stories on his phone from the back of a police car being driven to an interview with detectives. Phil Davis, the courts and crime reporter who survived the shooting, he wanted to report, but he knew he couldn't because he was now a witness to the crime. So, he figured he'd do whatever he could to help other reporters. He went to the courthouse's website, which he knew well, and tweeted out details of the bail review for the suspect. Tomorrow morning, Annapolis District Court, 10:30 a.m. And then there was Rachael Pacella. She was another young reporter who'd survived the shooting. She was the one who fell and hit her head while Selene and the intern hid under a desk. Rachael was taken to a nearby hospital, she didn't have her phone, it was still on her desk back at work. So, Rachael asked someone for a sheet of paper and a pen. And then, almost like a reflex, she began writing. I had no information, so I gathered my own, she later explained. She wrote down her doctor's name, first name in the last initial of the police officer, whom she'd asked not to leave her alone in that hospital room. She wrote down that she remembered that the office had, quote, smelled like gunpowder. And when she finally learned the names of her five coworkers who'd been killed, she wrote down their names too. Back in the mall parking lot, Josh saw the people around him starting to figure out dinner or talking about heading home. Basically, they were figuring out what's next. But Josh had a very different feeling.
JOSHUA MCKERROW I just didn't want it to end.
CHRIS BENDEREV Why didn't you want it to end?
JOSHUA MCKERROW I didn't want the rest of my life to start. This is going to change everything, everything is different now, and I don't want everything to be different here. I mean, like if I leave here, then I have to deal with everything else that's going to happen after. Someone had said "we're going to have to go to five funerals next week, aren't we?" Their plans are being made and the world is moving to the next step, and I don't want to move to the next step. I don't want, you know, I don't want to go to Wendi's funeral. I don't want to. But it was time. I mean, there was nothing else to do. And I was so tired.
CHRIS BENDEREV News outlets were already beginning to talk about the heroism of putting out the paper from the back of a pickup truck, but in the parking lot that evening, things didn't exactly feel heroic. Yeah, it was nice that a lot of people found the whole pickup truck thing inspiring, but was that really doing anything to help the people they were the most worried about? The friends, the coworkers who survived. Would those people even care about the next day's paper?
SELENE SAN FELICE I mean, when we got taken out of the office, I was like, the paper's dead.
CHRIS BENDEREV This is Selene San Felice again.
SELENE SAN FELICE I thought the whole operation was dead. I mean, all the f*cking editors are dead, so how are we going to do it? I didn't know that Chase and Josh and Pat were like out just in the parking lot of the mall reporting. I thought at that moment we were all going to give up. So then when I saw Pat on TV and I realized we were still reporting and then I got the call that like they were writing a story and that they had been reporting. Then it was amazing, and I knew that we were going to have a paper and that if we're going to have paper the next day, we were going to keep having a paper. So I wanted to be part of it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Coming up, how to cover the trial of the man who killed your colleagues. This is On the Media.
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