Paying Heed to the Warning Signs: The June 28th Annapolis Shooting
On June 28th, 2018, Jarrod Ramos, a 38-year-old local resident, carried out a shooting attack on the offices of the Capital Gazette, a venerable Annapolis, Maryland newspaper. Ramos had been in a longstanding, tumultuous dispute with the news agency that had often been malicious, but never violent. Ramos’ attack showed sophisticated levels of premeditation, preparation and surveillance. Ramos knew the multi-business complex layout and traffic patterns well enough that on the day of the attack, he was able to enter unnoticed through a secondary entrance of the facility and block the rear exit of the targeted newsroom offices without raising suspicion. He then moved to the newsroom main entrance, and using a shotgun blew out the glass door, beginning his attack. In about 90 seconds, he killed 5 people and wounded 2 others. Though Ramos carefully planned his attack, his exit strategy was either poorly conceived or changed during execution as he was found unarmed, hiding under a desk.
The reasons behind Ramos’ attack are identifiable, even if they’re not easily understandable. His attack on the paper took place after those he believed had wronged him were no longer employed at the paper, and it appears that Ramos knew this. And though his attack was planned, his actions appeared indiscriminate. His victims appeared to be randomly selected; he shot some individuals and walked past others. And lastly, he didn’t seem to have thought through his endgame. He didn’t take steps to end his life and didn’t attempt to flee the scene (the two most common conclusions). Instead he ditched his weapons and then hid under a desk. It isn’t clear if his hiding under the desk was an attempt to evade or if Ramos intended to take his own life but didn’t go through with it.
People hold grudges, often for long periods of time.
Ramos’ dispute with the Gazette began in 2011 after the paper ran an article detailing Ramos’ criminal harassment case. Ramos identified 2 employees of the as defendants in his defamation case. Neither was still working at the on the day of the shooting.
Just because the court case is over, doesn’t mean the incident is over.
Ramos’ defamation lawsuit was thrown out in 2015, three years before the shooting. On the day of the shooting, Ramos mailed 3 letters to individuals related to his case, including the judge who finally threw the case out. Ramos specifically states that his shooting that day was the judge’s “legacy” and laid blame for the day at his feet.
Health Professionals don’t always detect mental health problems.
Ramos had made about 75 medical visits to 5 different mental health professionals. None of them diagnosed Ramos with any sort of mental illness despite all of his self-acknowledged aggressive tendencies.
Do not stake your life on outside assistance.
You must have a strategy and mechanisms in place to survive the initial attack. Two law enforcement officers happened to be within a block of the building when the attack took place, they were on the scene in under 2 minutes. But the damage had already been done.
Law Enforcement can sometimes fail to take warnings and signs seriously.
Understand that law enforcement and security are two distinctly different things, and not all law enforcement officers are security specialists (in reality few are proficient enough to be considered a security expert).
Ramos’ aggression towards the newspaper began around 2011. By 2013 the threats had reached a point where an editor from the contacted the Anne Arundel County police for an assessment of the situation and for protection. However, the police did not view the report as a legitimate threat and did not pursue it.
Always contact a security expert to get another view. This person will look at the threat from a different perspective than most.
Once a legitimate threat is received, take proactive steps to protect your office and personnel.
The paper’s management considered the threat but took limited action to address the issue.
The editor that contacted the police, also began the process of getting a restraining order against Ramos but did not follow through and actually get the order instated.
One of the victims, 65-year-old Wendi Winters, bravely attempted to fight the assailant. According to eye witness reports, Wendi attempted to charge the gunman, perhaps using a trashcan as a weapon. Not long before her shooting, Wendi had participated in an active-shooter training course provided by her local church. Though Wendi lost her life and was unable to stop the attacker, it’s believed that her actions created enough confusion to allow people to escape the newsroom.
Ultimately you are responsible for your own security.
Listen to the advice of others but remember it’s you and your people that will be the ones being shot at if an attack takes place. Don’t let your life depend on halfhearted approaches or opinions. Get serious help for a serious problem.
Expect the unexpected. There is no truly safe place in the world. But you can take steps to harden your security posture and mitigate damage from an attack. But just like fastening your seatbelt, you have to take steps beforehand to be effective.