When Jarrod Ramos wanted to buy a gun in Maryland about a year ago, neither his conviction for criminal harassment nor history of violent online threats prevented him from purchasing a shotgun legally. Months later, he’d shoot through the glass door of the Capital Gazette’s newsroom in Annapolis with that same gun and open fire.
People at the Capital Gazette had long worried Ramos would harm them. The Arundel County Police Department even investigated him in 2013 for his incessant threatening tweets at the paper. Years later, Ramos wrote that he hoped two journalists at the paper would “cease breathing.” And in 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Washington, D.C., fired him from his job over “security suitability concerns,” CNN reported.
Still, Ramos became a licensed gun owner. He now faces five counts of murder after allegedly shooting and killing five employees of the publication he'd repeatedly threatened on Thursday afternoon.
“This was a targeted attack,” Anne Arundel Police Chief Timothy Altomare told reporters Friday. “The fellow was there to kill as many people as he could kill.”
Maryland residents cannot own a firearm if they’ve been convicted of a crime of violence, which includes abduction, murder, robbery, and sexual offenses. The law also prohibits anyone from owning a firearm if they’ve been convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor that carries a penalty of two years. None of those apply to criminal harassment, a misdemeanor that only carries a fine and a jail sentence of up to 90 days.
“This was a targeted attack. The fellow was there to kill as many people as he could kill.”
Ramos had been nursing a nasty grudge against The Capital for years, which stemmed from the publication’s coverage of his criminal harassment charge. He had alternated between asking a former classmate for help online, calling her vulgar names, and telling her to kill herself, according to The Capital. Ramos also allegedly even emailed the bank where she worked to try to get her fired.
Ramos pleaded guilty in 2011 to the harassment charge, and the following year, he sued The Capital, reporter Eric Hartley, and editor Tom Marquardt, for defamation. From then on, he obsessively tweeted about The Capital and his lawsuit (which he lost, appealed, and then lost again).
Some of his posts were threatening.
“I’ll enjoy seeing @capgaz cease publication, but it would be nicer to see Hartley and Marquardt cease breathing,” Ramos wrote Feb. 2015.
Another from June 2013 read: “Why didn’t God take you instead, Evil Tom?” Ramos wrote, presumably in reference to Marquardt. “Because your place is in Hell, no matter how big and special they print your name @capgaznews.”
Sometimes, Ramos targeted other members of the staff. “Rob Hiaasen, you’re one of his enabled asshole aristocrats,” Ramos wrote. “Come punitive damages, you’re still not ready. Love,/ The Killjoy/”
Hiaasen, 59, a Sunday columnist and assistant editor for The Capital, was one of the five people who died in Thursday’s massacre. The other victims were Wendi Winters, 65, a community correspondent; Gerald Fischman, 61, an editorial page editor; John McNamara, 56, a staff writer who’d been at the Capital for more than two decades; and Rebecca Smith, 34, a sales assistant.
Back in 2013, Marquardt was so troubled by Ramos’s nonstop harassment that he eventually contacted the Anne Arundel County Police, he told the Washington Post after Friday’s shooting.
“I said, ‘This is a guy who’s going to come in here and shoot us,’ Marquardt told the Post. “I was right.”
The department soon assigned a detective to look into Ramos’s comments, the police chief, Altomare, told reporters Friday. He mentioned a conference call between a detective, legal counsel for The Capital, and several members of The Capital’s staff. “Marquardt was scheduled to be on that conference call,” Altomare said. “He did not call in.”
On that conference call, The Capital’s staff concluded they didn’t want to pursue criminal charges against Ramos. “There was fear that doing so would exacerbate an already flammable situation,” Altomare said.
At the time, Maryland did not have what’s known as a “red flag law,” which is designed to keep guns out of the hands of people who may do harm to themselves or others. After the Feb. 14 massacre at the high school in Parkland, Florida, lawmakers in a dozen states sought to push through red flag bills. Zachary Cruz, for example, the brother of the Parkland shooter, was barred from owning guns after Florida enacted its red flag law in April.
In five other states, including Maryland, red flag bills also passed. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed the bill into law on April 24.
Under the new law, someone can ask a law enforcement officer to file a petition with a Maryland district or circuit court that explains why the petitioner think an individual presents an “immediate and present danger of causing personal injury” to themselves or someone else by possessing a firearm.
The petitioner would also include “supporting documents or information, as specified, such as those regarding any act of threat of violence” the person in question made, regardless of whether that threat involves a firearm.
Ramos’s tweets and any police reports about his threats to The Capital’s journalists could have counted as those documents.
Cover image: Steve Schuh, county executive of Anne Arundel County, holds a copy of The Capital Gazette near the scene of a shooting at the newspaper's office, Friday, June 29, 2018, in Annapolis, Md. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)