The alleged mass shooter’s rage began — as it has so often before — with a woman.
Years before Jarrod Ramos sued the Capital Gazette for defamation, before he targeted a specific columnist at the Capital with hateful emails and online threats, before he was charged with killing five people in the small Annapolis newspaper’s office last week, one person was living that nightmare every day.
She spoke for the first time Monday, giving an interview to the “Today” show about the harassment she endured.
“I was afraid he could show up at any point, any place . . . and kill me,” she said. “I have been tormented and traumatized and terrorized for so long that it has, I think, changed the fiber of my being.”
She didn’t want her full name used; NBC identified her only as Lori and obscured her features.
The threats she detailed in court years ago forced her to move out of her hometown, to leave everyone behind, for her own safety.
If you dig deep enough, this is the root of a number of mass shootings. Whether it’s domestic violence or a failed marriage or a guy who got turned down in high school, a twisted, misogynistic streak helps fuel the violence.
The examples abound:
James Huberty, who killed 21 people in a San Ysidro, Calif., McDonald’s in 1984, had attacked his wife and shot his family’s German shepherd in the head.
Virginia Tech killer Seung Hui Cho was involved in at least three stalking incidents targeting women before he murdered 32 people and injured 17 in 2007.
Before allegedly killing three people and wounding nine in 2015 at a Colorado clinic that provides abortions, Robert Dear was accused of physical abuse by at least two of his three ex-wives.
Omar Mateen, who killed 49 people at Pulse nightclub in Orlando in June 2016, physically abused his wife for years, beating her for things like not finishing the laundry.
Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old arrested in the Parkland, Fla., shooting, was reportedly despondent after a breakup in a turbulent relationship, and one school official told the New York Times that he was obsessed with another girl “to the point of stalking her.”
And who can forget Elliot Rodger, who left a manifesto explaining in sickening detail why his 2014 rampage that left six people dead in Isla Vista, Calif., was punishment for all the women who rejected him.
Within five hours of those first shots that shattered the newsroom’s glass doors, we were reading the details of the column and lawsuit that launched Ramos’s vendetta with the Capital.
Ramos, now 38, was a federal employee when he pursued an old classmate online. He thanked her for being the only one who was kind to him in the cruel ecosystem of high school. She didn’t remember him, but was nice and responded.
Quickly, the online conversation became cruel and threatening when she didn’t respond the way he wanted her to.
“But when it seemed to me that it was turning into something that gave me a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach, that he seems to think there’s some sort of relationship here that does not exist . . . I tried to slowly back away from it, and he just started getting angry and vulgar to the point I had to tell him to stop,” the woman told the judge, according to the column that ran about the case in a 2011 edition of the Capital.
“And he was not OK with that. He would send me things and basically tell me, ‘You’re going to need restraining order now.’ ‘You can’t make me stop. I know all these things about you.’ ‘I’m going to tell everyone about your life.’ ”
Ramos turned his white-hot anger on the author of that column, Eric Thomas Hartley, and the newspaper. Ramos lost the defamation suit he filed.
There’s the pattern: abuse, denial, embarrassment, rage.
It’s exactly what happened in Santa Fe, Tex., just six weeks ago, said Sadie Rodriguez, whose daughter was one of the 10 people killed in another school massacre. I know you’re losing track of them. This is the one that happened in May.
Her daughter, Shana Fisher, had been the third wheel. Remember those arrangements? When a BFF gets a BAE, and the two become three, and it’s awkward sometimes?
According to the mom, who told me through fresh, Sunday-morning tears, Dimitrios Pagourtzis made a move on his girlfriend’s BFF, her daughter.
“Four months prior to the shooting, he had forced himself on Shana, he tried to kiss her,” she said. “She is extremely shy, when you talk to her, she’d look at the floor and smile. Her ears would turn red, she was so shy.” Shana rejected Dimitrios, grossed out that her best friend’s boyfriend tried that.
That rejection, Rodriguez said, turned into four months of harassment. Sometimes it was so bad that she’d call her mom just before art class — the class she shared with the boy — pretending to be sick so she could get picked up and not face him.
Finally, she stood up for herself in class one day and loudly told him to leave her alone. It was humiliating for him, she said. The shooting followed. It was in the art room.
“My daughter is the only one that got shot twice. Once in the side, then point-blank in the head. That’s hate. He hated her,” Rodriguez said.
The case is still being investigated, and police said Dimitrios can’t remember anything from the day of the shooting. His father said he was the one being bullied at school, and investigators haven’t confirmed that Dimitrios targeted Shana. But it was enough for Rodriguez to hear his name often.
“I’m struggling myself,” she said. “Listen to your kids. You think that’s not going to happen, then it does. Listen, listen.”
It’s what Mildred Muhammad says to herself every time another shooting happens.
“No one wants to listen when it’s time to listen,” she told me last year, on the 15th anniversary of her ex-husband’s reign of terror in the region as the D.C. sniper.
Muhammad and I spoke last fall as another shooting unfolded, this time in California, where authorities said a man identified as Kevin J. Neal shot people along the way to the local elementary school, killing five and injuring 10.
“Just wait for it,” Mildred said. “The connection.”
And, sure enough, it was there. Neal, police said, had killed his wife and hid her body in the floorboards before the rampage.