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‘Guardians of the First Amendment’ Memorial Unveiled In Annapolis

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AP Photo/Brian Witte
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The Guardians of the First Amendment memorial in Annapolis honors Rebecca Smith, Wendi Winters, Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen and John McNamara, the five Capital Gazette staffers who died in a 2018 mass shooting. The panel behind the pillars shows the First Amendment.

A new memorial that honors five slain Capital Gazette staff members was unveiled in a public ceremony in Annapolis on Monday, the third anniversary of a mass shooting in the paper’s newsroom.

The “Guardians of the First Amendment” memorial honors Wendi Winters, John McNamara, Gerald Fischman, Rebecca Smith and Rob Hiaasen. The memorial, designed by Moody Graham, features an engraving of the newspaper’s stark front page the day after the attack: “5 shot dead at The Capital.” The victims are represented by five granite towers that stand in front of a brick wall engraved with the amendment that established the freedom of the press.

“I want Wendy, Rob, Gerald, Rebecca and John to be remembered with words like guardians. It will give their names weight, the weight they deserve,” Phil Davis, a survivor of the shooting, said at the ceremony in Newman Park, joined by victims’ family members and politicians.

“But I also knew these five as people,” he said.

Davis called Wendi Winters “the center of every conversation” who offered unique insight into Annapolis and depicted the city “as it truly was.” He remembered John McNamara as a reporter whose passion for local sports was infectious, who delighted in sharing basketball history. Gerald Fischman was a stoic yet thorough editor with a command on language; Rebecca Smith was a collaborative, engaged sales assistant who helped out with stories when she could. Davis described Rob Hiaasen as a passionate editor who inspired reporters to take creative risks and focus on the people behind the stories “so we can tell stories that will stick with people long after they put the newspaper down.”

“These are people with families, interests and desires that were all unique and very much in line with furthering the communities that they serve,” he said.

Davis noted also that “time and corporate interests did not stand still after tragedy.” Earlier this year, Tribune Publishing shareholders voted to sell the Capital, the Baltimore Sun and several other Sun-affiliated papers to the hedge fund Alden Global Capital, despite offers from Maryland hotel executive Stewart Bainum Jr.

Alden representatives have said the hedge fund seeks to carve a sustainable path for local news, but it’s better known for slashing newsrooms throughout the country by selling assets and laying off newsroom staffers. Former Capital journalists Rick Hutzell, Danielle Ohl and Chase Cook took a buyout from Alden this month.

“I want a future where there's also a freedom for the people of the press, where humanity takes precedence,” Davis, who now works at the Sun, said.

Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman joined Davis in sharing remembrances and said he sent Alden a letter about the value of journalism.

“I hope that they will visit this community soon. I hope that their stockholders hear our story, and work with us to grow, rather than shrink, our newspaper. And if they don’t, I hope that we can find a way to recreate what they take away from us,” he said.

David Simon, creator of HBO’s “The Wire” and a former Sun journalist who was friends with some of the victims, delivered an address titled “The Death of Truth.”

“I come to you as an emissary from a time when good newspapers were not pitied or mourned by the governing powers but were considered with ruthful wariness and even feared at moments by those in authority,” he said.

Jarrod Ramos, 41, pleaded guilty but not criminally responsible by reason of insanity to 23 counts tied to the killings in October 2019. A trial to determine his sanity is set to begin this week. If the gunman is found not criminally responsible, he will be committed to a maximum-security psychiatric hospital rather than a prison.

WAMU’s Dominique Maria Bonessi contributed to this report.