The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Capital Gazette reporters were under attack. So they used social media to report.

Police said they had one suspect in custody after five people were killed and several were injured at the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, Md. on June 28. (Video: The Washington Post)
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When tragedy strikes, reporters are often early to the scene — gathering information, speaking to victims and witnesses with the intention of compiling these threads into an informative story for their readers.

A witness might send out a tweet or two — the first bit of information alerting the general public that something is happening — but it’s the reporters who usually tell the whole story. But when a gunman opened fire in the Capital Gazette building in Annapolis on Thursday afternoon, killing at least five and injuring several others, the reporters found themselves in the position of being the victims and the witnesses.

These reporters, though, seemed bound by their duty, even in a time of crisis. So they did their jobs — taking to Twitter to get details out has quickly as possible. Before any official reports were written, a scene began to emerge online, from the reporters, rather than a passing witness.

The tweets first came from staff inside the newsroom. Slowly they rippled out from there, as reporters on vacation and friends and family of Gazette staffer offered information.

One of the earliest indications that something horrible was underway came from Anthony Messenger, who identifies himself as a Capital Gazette intern in his Twitter bio, in a pair of chilling tweets.

John McNamara worked for the newspaper in various capacities for more than 20 years, according to the newspaper’s website. He was later identified as one of the five people killed in Thursday’s shooting.

It would still be about an hour before police confirmed an active shooter, according to local media reports.

Phil Davis, a Gazette courts and crime reporter, tweeted a few further details after being evacuated from the building.

Soon, many Gazette employees — some who were not in the newsroom — began reporting their conditions and those of their colleagues.

Eventually, people tangentially connected to the newsroom began offering information. CNBC’s John Harwood was in touch with an old high school classmate of his at the Gazette.

The Gazette’s community news editor, Jimmy DeButts, offered a statement of sorts as the dust began to settle: “Devastated & heartbroken. Numb. Please stop asking for information/interviews. I’m in no position to speak.”

All these tweets made one thing clear: The small newsroom — its editorial staff consists of only 31 people — was left in pain, reeling after the shooting.

“The Capital is not a big newsroom,” reporter Danielle Ohl tweeted. “We are close. We are family. I am devastated.”

The Gazette’s General Assembly reporter, Chase Cook, who has been reporting on the scene, echoed that sentiment, saying he was “devastated.” But their mission remained clear.

Police identified Jarrod Ramos as the suspected shooter at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Md., on June 28. Five people were killed in the shooting. (Video: Amber Ferguson/The Washington Post)