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In the middle of tragedy, Capital Gazette sticks to its mission

Faces of the five victims led the front page of the Capital Gazette, a day after mayhem broke out in the Maryland newspaper's offices. The accused gunman has a long-held grudge against the paper after a 2011 column about his guilty plea to criminal harassment. Amna Nawaz talks with Terence Smith, contributing columnist for the Capital Gazette and longtime NewsHour contributor.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now, the aftermath of the murders in Maryland's state capital.

    Amna Nawaz has our story.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    A day after the mayhem at The Capital Gazette in Annapolis, faces of the five victims headlined the front page. The man accused of killing them, 38-year-old Jarrod Warren Ramos, was charged with five counts of first-degree murder, and ordered held without bond.

  • Wes Adams:

    Mr. Ramos is alleged to have executed a brutal series of attacks on innocent victims.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Officials say the suspect opened fire on the paper's newsroom with a pump-action shotgun. State attorney Wes Adams says the alleged gunman had made sure no one could get out.

  • Wes Adams:

    There were two entrances to the offices in which this attack occurred. The rear door was barricaded. Mr. Ramos then, as I told the judge, entered into the front door and worked his way through the office.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Hours after the attack, staff writer Selene San Felice recalled the terror of being trapped.

  • Selene San Felice:

    I remember I was working at my desk when I heard the shots, and it took a couple of them for me to realize what was happening.

    I went to the backdoor, which I was only a couple steps away from, and it was locked. I heard the footsteps.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Police got there within a minute, and say they found Ramos hiding under a desk. The accused gunman had long held a grudge against The Capital Gazette. He sued for defamation over a 2011 column about his guilty plea to criminal harassment, but he lost the appeal in 2015.

    Anne Arundel county's police chief, Timothy Altomare, says the suspect also harassed newspaper employees on social media.

  • Timothy Altomare:

    In may of '13, we did have a situation where, online, threatening comments were made. It was discussed that The Capital Gazette didn't wish to pursue criminal charges. There was a fear that doing so would exacerbate an already flammable situation.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The chief says there were new postings lately. Last night, investigators checked on those and other evidence as they searched the suspect's apartment in Laurel, Maryland.

    They say one thing is clear.

  • Timothy Altomare:

    This was a targeted attack. The fellow was there to kill as many people as he could get.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    In the wake of the carnage, The Capital Gazette's editorial page said simply, "Today, we are speechless."

    The newspaper also paid tribute to its slain staffers.

    Rob Hiaasen, 59 years old and assistant managing editor, remembered as a wryly observant writer who mentored young journalists; 65-year-old Wendi Winters, dubbed the heart of the newspaper, had a talent for connecting with the community as special publications editor.

    Those who worked for him said editorial page editor Gerald Fischman's — quote — "quirky low-key demeanor belied a biting sense of humor." He was 61.

    John McNamara, age 56, was nicknamed Mac, and remembered for — quote — "flexibility, concise writing and extensive knowledge of regional sports."

    Rebecca Smith, the paper reported, was a 34-year-old sales assistant, and known as thoughtful, kind and considerate.

    Flowers and stuffed animals left in their memories began to amass today ahead of a vigil tonight.

    The grieving staff at the newspaper still put out today's edition, and are continuing to work again today. As one reporter put it — quote — "I don't know what else to do."

    Terence Smith is a contributing columnist for The Capital Gazette, and was a longtime correspondent here at the "NewsHour."

    He lives in Annapolis.

    Terence, thank you so much for being here.

  • Terence Smith:

    My pleasure.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We are all so very sorry for you and your colleagues' loss.

  • Terence Smith:

    Well, it was an incredible shock.

    You do not expect it. You do not think, in a newsroom, that somebody's going to come in and shoot the place up. And maybe we should. Maybe we all should, but we didn't.

    And I think The Capital made a point — and you sort of suggested in the setup piece — of increasing its connection to the community by being open, having no wall, so to speak wall, between the office and community.

    Was that risky? Well, we didn't think so.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It's a remarkable position for a journalist to be in to have to cover the killing of your own colleagues. And I want to ask you about the editor you mentioned, because he was tweeting about those colleagues there.

    He wrote about them: "They give all — give all they have every day. There are no 40-hour weeks, no big paydays, just a passion for telling stories from our community."

    For folks who've never been there, who have never met some of these people, tell me about the place of The Capital Gazette in that community.

  • Terence Smith:

    It has a very close connection to the community and keeps it up and works at it.

    It was founded at — or its origins go back to 1727, so almost 300 years ago. And it was a pre-Revolutionary, rebellious newspaper that continues to this day. And they work at that connection to the community. They cover local politics, local debates, news, local sports, local anything, and give it precedence, as they should.

    And, amazingly, in this day and age of newspapers collapsing all around us, it makes money. How about that?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And you knew two of the individuals who were killed yesterday very well.

  • Terence Smith:

    I knew four of them, but two especially well.

    Gerald Fischman filed every column I wrote for the last four years. Wonderful guy, very quiet, unassuming, biting wit, beautiful writer. You can read about him. Go to the Annapolis Capital online, and they did wonderful profiles today of these people.

    Rob Hiaasen, another associate editor and columnist, terrific guy, very witty, big man, 6'5", he is the younger brother of Carl Hiaasen, a famous novelist, and a most engaging guy.

    His column dealt not with politics or big issues, but with the foibles of life that we all confront.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    What do you want people out there to know about that team that you get to work with there?

  • Terence Smith:

    I was really impressed with what they produced today and probably will produce tomorrow.

    And they were sending a message, you know, and it's a very clear message, and I endorse that message. You can't let a shooter, in this case, one who, as you said in the setup piece, had a long-running grievance with the paper — he was a danger. Obviously, they didn't think he was the combustible danger that he proved to be.

    Otherwise, the police and they would have done something about it, but they thought about it. He was on the radar. But I think the paper's performance in the wake of this is their most extraordinary testimonial. They will keep at it.

    This isn't fake news. This is not the enemy of the people.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Terence Smith, thank you so much for being here today with us.

  • Terence Smith:

    My pleasure.

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