Sofia Biondi had seen her older sister get chosen six years earlier. Then some of her friends got to claim the title for a week.
It was something of a social achievement to be picked as the Capital Gazette’s “Teen of the Week,” a column many Annapolis students know well. And Biondi, 18, was getting her turn.
On Thursday afternoon, the recent high school graduate walked into the Capital Gazette’s newsroom to be interviewed.
About 90 minutes later, a gunman carrying a shotgun and a history of rage for the paper walked in and killed five people, including Wendi Winters, the journalist with whom Biondi met. The shooting happened less than 30 minutes after Biondi left the building.
Winters had written the “Teen of the Week” column for several years, since before Biondi could remember. Her mom, Marisa Biondi, said she thought her third child had a chance at the honor, so she emailed a nomination to Winters.
Three days later, Winters responded to say she wanted to talk to her daughter, Marisa Biondi recalled.
Sofia Biondi recalled the 45-minute interview as a friendly conversation as the two bonded over going to the March for Our Lives rally in Washington earlier this year. Biondi had marched twice in Washington since President Trump took office, the first at the Women’s March on Washington.
“At the time, I was still in high school, so it really resonated with me because I don’t feel safe going to school … when there might be a shooter coming,” Biondi said. “I could lose my life any day, and this just proves it — even in the workplace.”
When the interview was over, Winters walked Biondi to her car. The teenager was looking forward to reading what Winters would write.
Biondi’s mother, who works at the U.S. Naval Academy, told a colleague about her daughter’s day at the newspaper. About 3 p.m., as Marisa Biondi was packing up for the day, the colleague approached her.
“He looked like he had seen a ghost, and he said, ‘Have you talked to your daughter? There’s been a shooting at The Capital,’” Marisa Biondi recalled.
She called her daughter, who was safe at home. Then concern turned to Winters.
“When I got home she said: ‘Mom, I’m texting. I just want to know that she’s okay because I feel so bad. We literally just got done talking 30 minutes ago, and she’s not writing me back,’” Marisa Biondi recalled.
Hours went by with no reply. Could Winters be with police or at the hospital with injuries? Maybe she ran out without her phone, they remembered thinking. The reply would never come.
About 10 p.m., they saw news reports that Winters was among the dead.
“When she told me they had spoken about gun violence less than a half-hour before this happened, I couldn’t believe it,” Marisa Biondi said. “I still can’t believe it.”
The “Teen of the Week” article with Sofia Biondi was supposed to publish July 28.