COLLEGE PARK — Three dedicated employees of the Capital Gazette, mentors and friends to many, were tragically killed by a gunman who opened fire on their newspaper office in Annapolis on June 28. They also had close ties to the Prince George’s County community.
Robert Hiaasen was the assistant editor at the Capital Gazette and taught journalism classes at the University of Maryland this past spring in College Park. John McNamara, a University of Maryland alumni, was a dedicated sports reporter and oversaw all content for the Capital Gazette’s Bowie Blade-News. Gerald Fischman was also a University of Maryland alumni and wrote for The Diamondback in his time there.
Their lives came to an end when Jarrod Ramos broke into the Capital Gazette newsroom with a shotgun in a targeted attack. Ramos had a long-standing grudge against the newspaper.
Ramos killed two other staff members, Wendi Winters and Rebecca Smith, and injured several others. Hiaasen and McNamara, in addition to their work at the Capital Gazette, worked closely with the University of Maryland community.
“We were deeply saddened last night when our worst fears were confirmed, and John McNamara was listed as one of the five people killed at the offices of the Annapolis Capital Gazette and Bowie Blade-News in Annapolis,” said City of Bowie Communications Manager Una Cooper in a statement a day after the attack.
As the editor and primary reporter for the Bowie Blade-News, McNamara was an essential fixture in the Bowie community. From in-depth coverage of the elections, legislative decisions and local reports of people and events in the community, McNamara worked hard to keep the city of Bowie informed.
“He was a talented writer with a knack for taking complex, often-contentious issues, and turning them into straightforward, even-handed articles that informed the Bowie community he served,” Cooper said. “His laid-back style and quick wit put those he interviewed at ease, and his storytelling skills made him a ‘must read’ every Thursday in the Blade.”
McNamara was also a passionate sports reporter and has been covering sports at UMD for years, he knew more about sports than most according to Doug Dull, media relations director at UMD and close friend of McNamara.
“He wrote stories for experts at sports as well as wrote for the general public,” Dull said. “He got great insight on what happened and why. He was really good at writing features, and he would develop a rapport with a subject and get memorable information on them. He was a very good storyteller.”
Dull met McNamara when the two were students at UMD where they played intramurals and were sports writers for The Diamondback. The two had been close friends ever since.
“John was a talented reporter and editor who I was fortunate to work within his coverage of Bowie and local politics,” said Congressman Steny Hoyer (MD-05). “His coverage was always fair, and I appreciated his diligence and commitment to his profession.”
In addition to being a great reporter, McNamara a great friend, an excellent journalist and was very loyal, Dull said. He was the type of person you would call when things were going well because you just wanted to talk to him as well as call when things weren’t going well to get his advice.
“I’ll miss just his enthusiasm for all things Maryland and sports,” Dull said. “And his insight to both sports and life and general.”
What sets Hiaasen apart in the legacy he left behind is his way of nurturing and encouraging young reporters, said Rafael Lorente, academic associate dean of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism.
Lorente had many interactions with Hiaasen before meeting him formally at UMD when he would recommend interns to him to work at the Capital Gazette.
Hiaasen began teaching an advanced reporting class at UMD in January and before then, in addition to his role as editor at the Capital Gazette, he was known as a person who would mentor interns and young reporters.
“There are people who think the way to teach is to be either nurturing or to push all the time,” said Lorente. “He had a way of pushing in a nurturing way.”
Lorente described him as a gentle soul who genuinely cared about people and was always encouraging. His most significant contribution was the impact he that left on his students.
“He was kind,” said Hiaasen’s student Teresa Johnson. “Walking into his class the first day, he told me he knew we’d get along.”
Johnson, who took Hiaasen’s class this past spring, described him as a “journalism dad.” He would joke a lot with his students, bring cookies that his wife made and just made everyone in the class feel special. The class he taught was one that all journalism majors dreaded, but he encouraged them and made them feel like they could do well in it.
In Johnson’s case, he was especially there for her to talk to when she was going through a rough time that semester. He helped her with her assignments and made it a point to let her know that he was proud of her. By the end of the semester he had become more than just her professor, he was her friend.
“His character was always genuine, and he always made sure to check if all students were doing okay,” Johnson said. “There’s so much I can’t put into words. I’m so devastated, and I know so many others are too. I just wish I gave him a bigger hug on my last day of class. I’ll love and miss him forever, and I know so many other people he touched will too.”
A vigil was held on June 29 to honor all of those who were killed and injured during the act of senseless violence that took place that day. Hiaasen and McNamara made significant contributions to the Capital Gazette and the surrounding community as well as their family and friends who have fond memories of the times they shared with them and what assets they were to the community they served.