Voices Of The 'Capital Gazette's' Journalists, One Year After Mass Shooting | WYPR

Voices Of The 'Capital Gazette's' Journalists, One Year After Mass Shooting

Jun 28, 2019

The day before Selene San Felice and her colleagues accepted a special Pulitzer Prize citation for coverage of a mass shooting at their paper, she got this tattoo of a fountain pen. "It has five flowers kind of sprouting out of it for our friends," she said. "It's beautiful and it's powerful, and that's how I want us to be remembered: not as something sad and commemorative. Just beautiful."
Credit Emily Sullivan/WYPR

The worst attack on journalists in U.S. history was one year ago today -- when a man entered the offices of the Capital Gazette and killed five people with a shotgun. The journalists who survived say that dealing with their trauma and grief has not been a linear process. They also cite remaining sources of comfort -- like their connection with each other and ongoing community support.

 

WYPR’s Emily Sullivan talked to four journalists from the paper about the shooting’s first anniversary. Here is what they said.

SELENE SAN FELICE: My name is Selene San Felice. I work for the Capital Gazette and I am a features and enterprise and LGBTQ issues reporter. 

RACHAEL PACELLA: My name is Rachael Pacella. I’m a reporter for the Capital in Annapolis. 

DANIELLE OHL: Hi, I’m Danielle Ohl. I’m a reporter for the Capital and I cover city hall and the Naval Academy.  

PHIL DAVIS: My name is Phil Davis. I’m a former reporter at the Capital and I am one of the survivors of the June 28, 2018 shooting. 

SAN FELICE: I used to be like, ‘let me tell you everything I can tell you about that day.’ But I've kind of learned that it takes a lot out of me to talk about that day.

OHL: The way that you feel when you're first going through, like, the first couple of weeks and just trying to make sure that you are with your friends and you are with your colleagues and you are trying to navigate getting back to work, are way different than now. 

PACELLA: I know what it's like to have your life feel like it got thrown in a washing machine.

SAN FELICE: I think I can just say that I had to just suddenly cope with the fact that I was going to die all at once and I saw someone die and it's something that you don't get better from. 

DAVIS: After the shooting kind of amplified how much we were a cohesive team.

SAN FELICE: There have certainly been really, really tough parts of this, but I have felt really supported and so just incredibly blessed with all of the resources that we've gotten and all the people who want to hear our story. 

OHL: There are people who live in Baltimore -- the city that I live in -- that deal with gun violence every day. And they don't have a community foundation with match funding.

PACELLA: We also were lucky enough to have a whole group of therapists in Annapolis offer free care to the whole Annapolis community -- not just us.  People really took barriers down for us, took all the barriers down.

DAVIS:  It seemed like for six months there was just nothing but support from everywhere, from Toronto to New Jersey. And volunteers coming in. 

OHL: I’m not saying it’s been a picnic. It sucks.

SAN FELICE: We have to report on a trial where we have to say accused shooter even though people were in a room where the shooting happened. It's tough.

OHL: I had been covering, after the shooting, some of the court proceedings that stemmed from the charges against the man that was suspected. And that... obviously it's hard. I don't want to say it's not hard. But people, I think because it seems so obviously terrible that you're in the same room, people ask me, “How did you do that?” Honestly, that didn't affect me as deeply as when I've tried more recently to do a story about other shootings. 

SAN FELICE:  I knew from the beginning that we were gonna put ourselves in for Pulitzers.

 

OHL: The day that the Pulitzer winners were announced was very nerve wracking. I was convinced, I think out of a sense of self-preservation, that we weren't going to win. 

SAN FELICE: Like maybe we were time magazine's Person of the year. But you when you get accolades like this even the Pulitzer there is always this haunting feeling of like they just feel bad for you. 

OHL: We had some coolers with drinks because regardless of what happened we were going to have a party. We plugged in a laptop to stream the announcement and we all got really quiet.

SAN FELICE: As they're announcing all the different categories that I knew that we'd put ourselves in for -- editorial, breaking news, all these different things -- and and we're not getting them.

PACELLA: My heart sank a little bit.

DAVIS: Oh man, what happens to the collective group when we get to the end of this and they don't say our names?

SAN FELICE: Oh my God, our hearts were just broken.

OHL: I was like, Oh God, you know, we didn't we didn't get it. It’s OK.

SAN FELICE:  And then they said there's one more award. And it was a special citation.

ARCHIVED TAPE OF PULITZER PRIZE ADMINISTRATOR DANA CANEDY: the Pulitzer Prize Board is pleased to announce a special citation this year to the Capital Gazette of Annapolis Maryland. 

PACELLA: It was definitely a fake out.  

CANEDY: The citation honors its journalists staff and editorial board for their courageous response to the largest killing of journalists in U.S. story in their newsroom on June 28 and for demonstrating unflagging commitment to covering the news and serving their community at a time of unspeakable grief…. 

OHL: And I think we were really quiet for a second or two, and then and then Chase, one of my colleagues, was like holy s---! Like, what does this mean? And then I think we all started laughing.

DAVIS: It was certainly strange because it was… recognition of a trauma and the impact that it had on us which, you know, is not redeeming. But… it just kind of validates what you went through.

SAN FELICE: It just feels like, this is it. You have made it with the best of the best. You worked hard enough and this is it. And I wasn't sad for one minute that day. And everybody says it's bittersweet. It must be bittersweet. I'm so tired of bittersweet.  

PACELLA: Now for the past…  you know it was a turbulent waters, right. And I had a pretty crappy boat. And I was going in there and I was trying to get across the lake and it just wasn't it wasn't going well. And I feel like now, I have a better boat. And I'm able to navigate that a little bit better. 

OHL: That's really nice. 

RACHAEL: That was the most Annapolis thing I've ever said.

SAN FELICE: This is what we are now. And I'm so proud of the fight that we're fighting. I'm so proud of the people that we're honoring, and of the job that we do. 

OHL: We lost five people.

PACELLA: I miss all of them. 

DAVIS: There are five families who have to read contextualize their lives forever now. It never goes away. They deserve to be honored. They died for an industry worth saving, and they didn't deserve to.

OHL: And their names were Rob Hiaasen.

SAN FELICE: Rebecca Smith. 

DAVIS: Gerald Fishman. 

 

OHL: Wendy Winters.

DAVIS: and John McNamara. 

EMILY SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Those were the voices of current and former Capital Gazette journalists Selene San Felice, Danielle Ohl, Rachael Pacellea, and Phil Davis. I’m Emily Sullivan, reporting for 88.1 WYPR.