Update: Ramos has been denied bail.
At 2:45 in the afternoon, Thursday, June 28, a man walked into the Capital Gazette newsroom with a shotgun and smoke grenades and murdered five people. The police responded quickly after an intern tweeted “help us,” and arrested the suspected shooter. But the damage was done; five lives had been lost. Why? Was it terrorism, a personal grudge, or did some guy just lose his mind and start killing people at random? The world was left wondering for hours, as the shooter refused to cooperate with law enforcement and didn’t identify himself.
By using facial recognition software, police identified their suspect as 38-year-old Jarrod Ramos, a resident of Laurel in near-by Prince George’s County. Ramos is no stranger to the Gazette, and his motive now appears to be revenge.
A History of Harassment
According to court records, Ramos pleaded guilty to criminal harassment in Anne Arundel County in July of 2011 and was sentenced to 90 days in jail and 18 months on probation, with the jail time suspended. He was also ordered to stay away from the victim and to see a therapist.
Less than a week later, Capital Gazette ran a column titled “Jarrod wants to be your friend.” It profiled the woman who claimed to be the victim of his harassment. The woman, whose name has not been revealed, claimed to be a former high school classmate of Ramos, who stalked her on Facebook and harassed her through email for two years.
Ramos allegedly told the woman to commit suicide, and that the bank she worked for put her on probation because of an email and follow-up phone call from him, in which he advised them to fire her. She was laid off a few months later, and while she couldn’t prove it, she felt sure it was because of his interference and criticism.
A Failed Suit
Jarrod Ramos sued the Capital Gazette and both the column’s author, Eric Hartley, and the paper’s publisher, Thomas Marquardt, for defamation and invasion of privacy. Of course, Ramos had pleaded guilty to the harassment charge, making the case a matter of public record. He didn’t actually dispute any of the information presented by Hartley. And to top it all off, he filed his suit two months after the statute of limitations for the supposed defamation had expired. Naturally, the circuit judge dismissed the complaint, saying:
“There is nothing in those complaints that prove that anything that was published about you is, in fact, false. It all came from a public record. It was of the result of a criminal conviction. And it cannot give rise to a defamation suit.”
Ramos appealed, but in September of 2015, the appeals court upheld the dismissal.
A New Approach
After his failed lawsuit, it seems Ramos set up a Twitter account – which is now suspended – in his name, featuring a picture of Hartley as the avatar, a banner with photos of Marquardt and the paper’s former owner, Philip Merrill, and the following bio:
“Dear reader: I created this page to defend myself. Now I’m suing the s*** out of half of AA County and making corpses of corrupt careers and corporate entities.”
According to The Baltimore Sun, the parent company of Capital Gazette, the account regularly commented on Anne Arundel County news. Though the account had been dormant since January of 2016, it posted “F*** you, leave me alone,” at 2:37 Thursday afternoon – just minutes before the shooting.
An Avoidable Tragedy?
While it’s unclear what drove Ramos to take his violent revenge on the paper so suddenly, more than two years after even his last trolling tweet, it has become painfully evident that the man had difficulties with social interactions. His aunt told The Baltimore Sun that he was very intelligent, but that he tried unsuccessfully to communicate with others and that he was a loner. After his grandmother died, he distanced himself even more from the family.
The woman who Ramos admitted to harassing back in 2011 claimed that he tried to kindle an online relationship with her, and that he said she was the only person who spoke to him or was nice to him back in school. She also claims to have tried to convince him to undergo counseling for his issues – a suggestion the judge later affirmed by court order.
Thomas Marquardt even said he wasn’t surprised to discover that Ramos had been identified as the shooter, as the man had harassed the paper online for years after the 2011 article and had even made threats. Marquardt had, apparently, told his wife that they should be worried, as Ramos could really hurt them. He even recalls telling their attorneys that “This is a guy who is going to come in and shoot us.”
There is no excuse that can justify Jarrod Ramos’ decision to murder five people; that was his decision alone, and he owns it. However, one must wonder if this tragedy could have been avoided. Had Ramos sought the professional help he was directed toward multiple times, would it have changed anything? Would it have saved the lives of his five victims – Rob Hiaasen, Wendi Winters, Rebecca Smith, Gerald Fischman, and John McNamara? Sadly, we will never know.
Ramos has been charged with five counts of first-degree murder, and is scheduled for a bail review hearing in Annapolis at 10:30 a.m.