Wendi Winters stood as soon as she heard the bangs.
A man with a gun had broken the glass doors leading to the newsroom of the Capital Gazette and was shooting at her colleagues, many of whom dropped to the floor or dove under their desks. Not Winters.
Grabbing the trash can and recycling bin she kept by her desk, she ran toward the man and yelled at him to stop — distracting him long enough to allow some of her colleagues to escape. Of the 11 people in the room that day, six survived.
“In an act of extraordinary courage, she gave her heart, and she gave her last breath, and she gave her final eight pints of blood to the defense of the free press and in defense of her family at the Capital,” Winters’s son Phoenix Geimer told a crowd of more than 700 family members, co-workers and friends gathered on Saturday in the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts to celebrate Winters’s life. “She died fighting for what she believed in. My mom is an American hero, and we all have so much to live up to.”
Winters, 65, was among five Capital Gazette employees killed June 28 when, according to police, a man who had long borne a grudge against the paper opened fire in the Annapolis office in an effort to kill the reporters and editors inside.
Jarrod W. Ramos, 38, has been charged with five counts of murder in the shootings. Also killed were Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara and Rebecca Smith.
Hiaasen, 59, a columnist who had joined the paper as an assistant editor, was remembered at a Monday memorial service in Owings Mills. Private services are scheduled Sunday for Fischman, 61, an editorial page editor, and Smith, 34, a sales assistant. A memorial service for McNamara, a reporter, will be held Tuesday at the Memorial Chapel of the University of Maryland at College Park.
Winters’s final act was described by her son, based on accounts he said were provided by at least one person who was in the room. It was consistent with a life spent giving everything she could — her time, care and attention — to her four children, to her community and to her work as a reporter, mourners said.
“To be Wendi is to take everything you can possibly offer the world and to pour it into your kids and your community,” her 20-year-old daughter Summerleigh Geimer told the crowd. “To be Wendi is to have a story for every occasion.”
Winters served for more than two decades as an editor and community reporter at the Capital Gazette and was known throughout the area for her “Teen of the Week” columns spotlighting Annapolis youth. She was a prolific chronicler of local doings, writing between 275 to 350 feature articles annually.
Winters, who was born in Coronado, Calif., and worked in public relations before pursuing a career in journalism, loved her job. On Saturday, teenagers she had featured in her weekly column recounted how she spent hours asking questions and putting them at ease, chatting well past the hour allotted for the interview. Phoenix said his mother often stayed up late into the night working and then woke up at 5:30 a.m. to keep going.
Rick Hutzell, the editor of the Capital Gazette and Winters’s final editor, said Winters wrote so much that sometimes she “wouldn’t tell me everything that she was writing.” He said Winters came into his office seven or eight times a day, always excited to talk about her stories.
“I tried to think, ‘What is Wendi,’ and I settled on a redheaded whirlwind,” Hutzell said Saturday. “And my job was to stand next to the whirlwind and hope it went in a direction that benefited the paper.”
When she wasn’t reporting on her neighbors, Winters was trying to help them — advising their daughters as a Girl Scout troop leader, haranguing them to donate blood in her role as an organizer for the American Red Cross, contacting legislators on their behalf. She kept local representatives on speed dial.
Between 1999 and 2018, Phoenix said, Winters personally donated 11 gallons of blood — equivalent to five pints per year for 18 years straight. Scott R. Salemme, the CEO for Chesapeake Red Cross, estimated Winters donated enough blood to save at least 72 lives.
Surveying the room — every seat filled, with some crowding in to stand along the walls — Phoenix said his mother gave so much blood that it’s “almost a guarantee” that at least one attendee had Winters’s blood flowing through his or her veins.
“As you can see when looking around, it’s standing room only — Wendi touched a lot of lives,” said the Rev. John Crestwell, whom Winters had helped get a job at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis years ago.
Speaker after speaker filed slowly onto the stage Saturday to prove his point. Yumi Hogan, the first lady of Maryland, said she bonded with Winters over their shared love of art. Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley mentioned his favorite article Winters ever wrote, a “kind” piece focused on a local chocolate festival. Buckley said she “covered the stories that told our lives.”
DaJuan Gay, a student at the University of Maryland at Eastern Shore and a former teen of the week, remembered how Winters helped him organize a Black Lives Matter march. Hutzell described the way she critiqued his fashion choices at work.
Winters’s 24-year-old daughter Montana Geimer did not give a speech. She sang.
“My mother . . . thought that music would be good for us, it would help us read and process the evil in the world and see the good,” she said before launching into a rendition of “How Can I Keep From Singing.” “Today, even though I’m sad and confused and angry and devastated, how can I keep from singing? All I ask is that you catch me when I fall.”
Montana’s voice faltered only a handful of times. Each time, the voices of the crowd filled the silence.
An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of DaJuan Gay. It has been updated.