WASHINGTON | Maryland police investigating America’s latest mass murder say Jarrod Ramos, the man charged with the slayings, sent three threatening letters on the day of the attack, including one that said he was on his way to the Capital Gazette to “kill as many people” as he could.
Sgt. Jacklyn Davis, a spokeswoman for Anne Arundel County police, said the letters were received Monday.
Hours later, an overflow crowd gathered to remember journalist Rob Hiaasen and his four colleagues who were shot to death by a gunman who blasted his way into the Capital Gazette’s newsroom. They tried to focus on how they lived, rather than their senseless deaths at the hands of a gunman twisted by hate and festering rage.
Ramos, 38, has a well-documented history of harassing the paper’s journalists. He filed a defamation suit in 2012 that was thrown out as groundless and often railed against them in profanity-laced tweets. Police found him hiding under a desk after Thursday’s attack and jailed him on five counts of first-degree murder.
Tom Marquardt, the onetime publisher of the Capital Gazette, told The Associated Press at Hiaasen’s memorial that Ramos sent one letter to a company lawyer saying he was on his way to the Annapolis newspaper “to kill as many people” as he could. The letter was dated June 28 — the day of the deadly attack.
“In that letter, he was talking to the appeals court judge and suggesting that he didn’t do a very good job on the case and as a result he was going to have to take out his vengeance in a different way,” Marquardt told AP.
Letters were also sent to a Baltimore judge, as well as a judge at the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.
Marquardt said he once slept with a baseball bat by his bed because he was so worried about Ramos. He also said that they “stepped up security” at the newspaper years ago, and posted Ramos’s photo around the office. “But then he went dormant for about two years and we thought the problem has been solved. Apparently it was just building up steam,” he said.
The mourning in Annapolis continued Tuesday, marked by a lowering of U.S. flags to honor the victims. President Donald Trump ordered flags flown at half-staff on federal property through sunset.
Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley said Monday that Trump, who has repeatedly called journalists the “enemy of the people,” had declined his request to lower the flags. The White House said Tuesday that Trump ordered the flags lowered as soon as he learned of the mayor’s request.
Hiaasen and his slain colleagues — Gerald Fischman, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters — were remembered in stories, poems, prayers and songs at a “celebration of life” ceremony Monday evening.
An overflow crowd sought solace with laughter and funny memories and occasional sobs.
“I want to just remember what a wonderful person Rob was and what a great, wonderful, selfless life he led,” said Kevin Cowherd, addressing roughly 500 people beneath a large white tent.
Cowherd, an author who worked with Hiaasen for years at The Baltimore Sun, described him as an open, fun-loving man who found humor in everything. As a writer, Hiaasen was versatile and drawn to the quirky, he said. As a colleague, he was kind and encouraging.
Hannah Hiaasen, his youngest daughter, said the family called him “Big Rob” — a nickname that perfectly fit the assistant managing editor who stood 6-foot-5. But it wasn’t just his height that made the nickname ring true to those who knew him best.
“He had a really, really big heart,” she said, before reading a poem in her dad’s honor.
At the heartrending gathering for Hiaasen, friends and colleagues lauded him as a dedicated professional who was committed to the craft of journalism and loved mentoring the next generation of reporters. He was remembered for his love of family and enduring pride in his job. He made friends easily and had a bunch of them.
The Baltimore-based novelist Anne Tyler, whose works include “The Accidental Tourist” and the Pulitzer-prize-winning “Breathing Lessons,” joined Hiaasen’s family and colleagues to honor the friend she says she already misses.
“I loved him dearly. I thought he was smart and funny and wise,” Tyler said before the gathering began.
Carl Hiaasen, a prolific novelist and a longtime Miami Herald columnist, on Friday described his younger brother as “a person of phenomenal grace.”
Hiaasen had just celebrated his 33rd wedding anniversary with his wife, Maria, whose birthday was on the day of the newsroom attack. His widow, displaying great strength along with the couple’s three children, said Rob was her best friend and a loving, generous partner.
“I’m going to try and hold him here,” she said, clasping her hands to her heart.
Associated Press Writer Brian Witte contributed to this report in Annapolis.