A man with a vendetta against a newspaper in Annapolis has been charged with five counts of murder after he fired a shotgun through the newsroom’s glass doors and at its employees, killing five and injuring two others Thursday afternoon in a targeted shooting. Here are stories of those who died: Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters
Gerald Fischman, 61
Editorial page editor Gerald Fischman, 61, was an award-winning writer and editor who worked at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis for 26 years. He was known in the newsroom for his shy demeanor, smart writing, wry wit and the cardigan with holes in the elbows that he always seemed to be wearing. He was also known for being in the office at all hours.
“It didn’t matter if you were working late at night or early on a Saturday, he was there,” said Elisha Sauers, a reporter at the Virginian-Pilot who worked with Fischman at the Capital Gazette for eight years. “I just remember that if we were all having a conversation around him, he might be very quiet and you might even forget he was there. And then out of the blue, he would have some very funny remark and chime in. He always had the perfect aside.”
Fischman won first- and second-place awards from the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association this year for his editorials about a noose that was left at a local middle school and about a county council member’s effort to censor public speakers at a council meeting.
“He had a much louder voice in his writing than he did in person,” Sauers said. “He was so shy and avoided eye contact, but he was a lot more confident in his writing voice.”
Sauers described the Capital Gazette newsroom as small, scrappy and close-knit.
“If you had a bad day, you just wanted to go out to a bar with your colleagues and commiserate,” she said. “Even though a lot of us scattered to different newspapers, we’ve all kept in touch.”
She spent much of Thursday afternoon texting with many of those old friends, trying to find out news about Fischman and other former co-workers still at the paper.
Fischman graduated from the University of Maryland in 1979 and served as the state editor on the school’s newspaper, the Diamondback.
Ron Jones, a copy editor at The Washington Post, first met Fischman 35 years ago when they both worked at the Carroll County Times in Carroll County, Md. They quickly became good friends.
Jones said he and Fischman met over the years for lunch or dinner and talked about everything from politics and current events to popular culture and ancient Roman history.
“He would always know something that was just so obscure, and you’d wonder, ‘how does he know all of this stuff?’ ” Jones said. “He was just very knowledgeable about a whole slew of things, which is very useful when you work at a daily newspaper.”
Fischman was somewhat conservative politically, but also was open minded and would look at the pros and cons of everything, Jones said. He remembered his friend as a superb writer whose style was “the opposite of whatever bloviating is.”
Jones had spoken briefly to Fischman on Wednesday evening and they had made plans to talk again on Thursday. That wouldn’t happen.
“I’m really going to miss him, and I sure wish I could have talked with him for just another five minutes,” Jones said.
Fischman is survived by his wife, Saran Erdenebat, an opera singer from Mongolia, and a stepdaughter.
— Joe Heim
Rob Hiaasen, 59
Rob Hiaasen wrote about snow snorkeling.
He wrote about his bat house: “Bats can eat as many as 1,200 insects an hour. . . . And I want to meet the person who tallied some bat’s hourly chow.”
He wrote about a conversation with his dog, Earle.
Hiaasen, 59, was the veteran columnist at the Annapolis Capital Gazette newspaper. The brother of best-selling author and journalist Carl Hiaasen, he had been a feature writer at the Baltimore Sun for 15 years before moving to the Capital in 2010 as an assistant editor.
Lately, he had been the author of a regular Sunday column.
A native of Fort Lauderdale and a graduate of the University of Florida, he had been a reporter for the Palm Beach Post, and an anchor and reporter at news-talk radio stations in the South.
“I just want people to know what an incredibly gentle, generous and gifted guy my brother was,” Carl Hiaasen said in a telephone interview Thursday night.
“He was an unforgettably warm and uplifting presence as a father and brother,” he said.
“But he also had dedicated his whole life to journalism,” he said. “And he loved that paper. He loved that newsroom. And he loved the idea of hometown, old-fashioned journalism.”
Hiaasen was a Floridian and a Marylander, a 6-foot-5 cynic and a softy.
In one recent column he wrote about a lost cat:
“First, leveled at me have been longstanding accusations that I’m a romantic and sentimentalist (guilty, guilty). So what if I can’t pass a missing cat/but mainly missing dog poster and not blink? So what if I always stop in my tracks and spin stories for missing cats but mainly dogs?
Haven’t we all gone missing at one time or another?”
In another column, he mourned the passing of rock star and fellow Florida native Tom Petty:
“What is good music? Good music is the music you put on when you’re alone or you don’t want to be alone, and either way the music makes you feel something in your day-job guts. And if it ain’t love or heartache or defiance or hope, then it’s close enough.”
Last Mother’s Day he wrote of his late mother:
“Like a neutral biographer, she stowed the chapters of my life in all their messy hope. She logged my job changes, relationship changes, address changes, mood changes, hair color changes — her youngest getting gray at 28?! Well, dear, it looks good on you, she would say.”
And in the grip of last winter, he wrote about snow snorkeling, in which he donned fins, mask and snorkel and plunged his face into a backyard mound of snow. “No marine life was visible,” he observed.
“He was a great colleague and a real craftsman when it came to writing,” his former editor at the Baltimore Sun, William K. Marimow, said. “He really treasured good writing and labored over every sentence and every word in his stories.”
Regarding his famous brother, Carl, Marimow said: “I think [Rob] really admired his brother, but he wanted to make sure that he carved out his own niche. And he did it with great success.”
Carl Hiaasen, 65, said: “He was my little brother, but he was in so many ways larger than I am as a person.”
“I’ve been in this business for 42 years and . . . watching the horror unfold on cable news and writing my columns about it and all,” he said. “And yet this is a horror that unfolds in this country it seems like every few weeks.”
Rob was also an adjunct lecturer at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism.
He was the youngest of four children, and is survived by his wife, Maria, a son and two daughters, his brother said.
Thursday night, as fears for his welfare grew, friends posted their concerns on his Facebook page.
“So worried Rob Hiaasen,” one wrote. “Want to hear your voice and know you’re OK.”
“Rob, hoping and praying you are safe,” said another.
“Rob would get uncomfortable with me saying this out loud, but Rob, I love you,” a third friend wrote.
In April, he updated his Facebook cover photo.
He stands on a beach with his back to the camera looking out over turquoise water with dark clouds over head. He’s wearing a blue T-shirt and white cap, and he’s carrying his shoes.
— Michael E. Ruane
John McNamara was an old-school reporter.
“Definitely a pen-and-paper guy,” said David Elfin, who co-wrote a book on University of Maryland basketball with McNamara. “He didn’t wear a fedora, but maybe he should have.”
McNamara worked at the Capital Gazette for more than 20 years, covering everything from local politics to professional sports. Friends, colleagues and young journalists he mentored remembered him as a kind person and diligent reporter — someone who earned the trust and respect of his co-workers and sources.
“John had this fierce devotion to his friends and his family,” his wife, Andrea Chamblee, said. “He was fiercely devoted to his craft of telling stories, and I’m so lucky that he was fiercely devoted to me, so I got the best of all of that.”
In an interview, Chamblee said that McNamara’s work delighted both lifelong fans and sports newcomers.
“He taught baseball to foreign exchange students and football to women trying to understand their boyfriends’ obsession,” she said. “He could tell you the story of the sport without making you feel stupid and without condescending.”
The two met in college, at the University of Maryland at College Park, and hit it off talking sports. Chamblee, a devoted fan herself, envied McNamara’s press passes and courtside seats.
At first, Chamblee said, she didn’t think she wanted to start dating. “I was a young, opinionated feminist, and I didn’t think I needed to,” she said. “But I realized he was the perfect guy for me, and I knew I’d be a fool if I let him go.”
Phil Kushin, who worked with McNamara at the Prince George Journal in Emporia, Va., in the 1990s, remembered that the couple “seemed so close and so in love.”
He said his colleague and friend was a master of sports trivia, with an encyclopedic knowledge of facts in a pre-smartphone era.
Working late one night, Kushin thought he had a question that would stump McNamara. Remember Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game? Well, who was the leading scorer on the other team?
“Richie Guerin,” McNamara answered, correctly, without missing a beat.
“Daggone if John McNamara didn’t know that,” Kushin said.
When David Deutsch, the former city manager in Bowie, Md., retired in 2016, McNamara wrote about his legacy. Two years later, Deutsch remembered him as a “genuinely good guy.”
The two stayed friends and had talked on the phone just hours before McNamara was shot. They made plans for a dinner date in July, the men and their wives.
Elfin, who knew McNamara for more than 30 years, said the two met as young, part-time reporters covering high school sports for The Washington Post. The two formed a bond during the 1983 blizzard. They were snowed in at work, Elfin said, and The Post put them up for the night at the Vista International Hotel. Seven years later, after D.C. Mayor Marion Barry was arrested there on cocaine charges, McNamara and Elfin joked that they had made the hotel famous first.
Decades later, while covering a University of Maryland basketball game, McNamara met a reporter about as old as he was during that blizzard.
“He took a real vested interest in me,” said Connor Letourneau, then a student journalist at the U-Md. “He was the epitome of the type of veteran sportswriter you want to meet when you’re coming up.”Letourneau, now a sports reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle, said McNamara was a mentor to him and other young journalists, often taking time to read over stories or talk about the newspaper business.
McNamara, who also wrote a book about University of Maryland football, loved what he did, Elfin said.
“He cares passionately about the D.C. area and, specifically, about the University of Maryland,” he said.
Chamblee said McNamara was also a big Washington Nationals fan. He had waited decades for major league baseball’s return to the District. He relished having a hometown team again. He would sit outside on the couple’s porch, radio tuned to the ballgame, and just listen, imagining the action playing out in front of him.
— Reis Thebault
Rebecca Smith, 34
Rebecca Smith, 34, had met the man she planned to marry. She was a recent hire at the Capital Gazette, where she was excited to work as a sales assistant in the Annapolis office.
Smith grew up in the Baltimore area and lived in Dundalk, Md., with her fiance, DJay Poling, and his daughter, Rileigh. Her friends and colleagues remember her as upbeat and dedicated to her family.
“She was always positive, said Carolyn Dedmon, a friend. “She’s just a goofball — she loved everybody.”
Dedmon said she and Smith were part of a community of women who cheered on a recreational softball team their husbands or boyfriends played in.
Smith was quickly welcomed into the group when Poling joined the team earlier this year, Dedmon said. She described the cohort of 27 men and women as a tightknit family.
“The ladies stuck together,” Dedmon said. “She was always talking about how excited and happy she is to feel loved and part of a family.”
More than anything, Dedmon said, Smith was devoted to her fiance and his daughter.
Rileigh “wasn’t just a daughter to her, she was her best friend,” Dedmon said.
Justin Rebbert said he worked with Smith in 2013 at Freestate Ambulance, a Linthicum Heights company that provides medical transportation services in Baltimore and surrounding counties.
Rebbert described Smith, who was a marketing director for the ambulance service, as a cheerful employee with a strong work ethic who was always ready to make conversation, even during times he was feeling low.
“If I or anyone else would want to talk to her, she was always willing to talk about anything,” Rebbert said. “It was good to know there were other people going through things similar to what I was going through.”
Dedmon on Friday said she’s organizing a charity tournament in Smith’s honor at the Carroll County Sports Complex
“I knew she loved her job and loved the people she worked with,” Dedmon said. “I couldn’t have asked to be introduced to such a great person.”
— Michael Brice-Saddler
Wendi Winters, 65
Wendi Winters, 65, of Edgewater, Md., was an editor and community reporter for the Capital Gazette, where she wrote weekly columns, hundreds of feature articles and oversaw editing of the local’s special editions.
The mother of four dedicated more than two decades of her career to community journalism, spotlighting local youth in her “Teen of the Week” columns, pointing out little-known but charming attractions in Maryland in her “Off Limits” series and covering the arts scene in Anne Arundel County and beyond.
No matter was too provincial, no event too pedestrian and no neighbor too ordinary for Winters to notice in her weekly dispatches. She featured an elderly couple retiring after a half-century of running a local diner and made an abandoned missile site sound like a worthy Saturday afternoon jaunt.
Winters made the mundane marvelous. It was all important because it was her community. It was the place she raised her four children and saw some of them become Naval officers. It was the place where her father, a Naval Academy graduate, met and proposed to her mother. And it was the place she started over with a new career and passion.
Winters spent the first part of her work life in the fashion industry as a public relations consultant and executive for New York City firm, including the boutique firm she founded in 1981, Wendi Winters Public Relations, according to her LinkedIn page.
For nearly a decade, Winters organized fashion shows, advertising and publicity campaigns for clients such as JC Penney’s, Sears Roebuck & Company and Gimbels.
But after moving to Maryland, she made a career change and began freelancing locally for more than a dozen Baltimore and Washington-area publications, writing about fashion, the arts and local community events. She used the skills she earned promoting fashion to shoot her own photos, film her own video and become a one-woman multimedia machine.
Winters’s body of work earned her local journalism awards and endearing the 6-foot tall writer with the mop of curly, red hair to the community.
“Everyone in the city knew Wendi Winters. She was at every event,” said Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley. His spokeswoman Susan O’Brien said Winters, who she knew for at least 25 years, was a fixture at city parades and celebrations.
After 11 years of freelancing for the Capital Gazette, she became a full-time staff writer at the newspaper in 2013 and an editor in 2016, according to various publication websites containing her work biography.
Winters was deeply embedded in the Annapolis community, where she was known for organizing a “P.R. Bazaar,” an annual event designed to connect the public and local groups to members of the press in a small group setting. Winters and her family hosted the most recent “Meet the Press” event in April at her local church, where it had taken place for several years, according the web announcements of the event.
In résumé sites and biographies, Winters said she wrote 275 to 350 feature articles annually. She said she was a Girl Scout leader and church youth adviser at her local Universalist Unitarian Church.
One of four daughters, Winters was born in San Diego to the late U.S. Navy Cmdr. Leigh Cosart Winters and Dorothy Breuninger Winters, a Capitol Hill secretary, said a 2009 obituary for her mother in the Alexandria Gazette Packet. She grew up in Northern Virginia and earned a fine arts bachelor’s degree in fashion design from Virginia Commonwealth University. She also was a fashion student at the Tobe-Coburn School for Fashion Careers.
Winters was never too far removed from Navy life. She married a military officer and son of another naval commander in 1987, a wedding announcement in the New York Times said. Three of her adult children, Winters Leigh Geimer, Phoenix Winters Geimer and Montana Geimer, currently serve in the U.S. Navy, and either graduated or teach at the Naval Academy, where her father became an officer in 1940.
Winters’s youngest daughter, Summer Leigh Geimer, graduated from Annapolis High School in 2015, where she participated in the Naval Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps with the intention of following her siblings into service. It is a family tradition, she told the Gazette when she was featured in the “Teen of the Week” column.
In the article, the then-17-year-old Geimer credited her mother for having succeeded in high school and never letting her give up on anything.
“She loved her kids. She loved her job,” said O’Brien, the mayor’s spokeswoman.
The family did not respond to interview requests but Winters’s friends flooded social media, pleading for her to reassure them she was alive.
Clarence Williams contributed to this report.
— Arelis R. Hernández