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"I Thought I Was Going To Die," Capital Gazette Witnesses Testify

The photos of five people slain in the Capital Gazette newsroom adorn candles at a vigil in June. GeralsThe attack was mentioned in the analysis of Reporters Without Borders' annual World Press Freedom Index.
Jose Luis Magana/AP
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The photos of five people slain in the Capital Gazette newsroom adorn candles at a vigil in June.

Testimony in the sanity trial of 41-year-old Jarrod Ramos took a dramatic turn Friday.

After eight days hearing from mental health professionals testifying for the defense, the jury heard from reporters who were in the Capital Gazette newsroom the day Ramos shot his way in and killed five people.

Three of those reporters used the same words when asked by Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess what they were thinking as they hid under desks, listening to the shotgun blasts.

“I thought I was going to die,” they said.

Selene San Felice, now a reporter for Axios, said she heard what she thought was a vase breaking but then realized it was the glass doors to the newsroom being shattered by a shotgun blast. She ran for the back door, but it wouldn’t open, so she and Anthony Messenger, then an intern at the paper, hid under a desk.

San Felice said she saw shotgun shells tear into John McNamara, one of the victims, and used Messenger’s phone to text her parents.

“I texted them there was an active shooter in the newsroom and that I loved them,” she said. “I wanted to make sure I didn’t tell them I was going to be okay.”

As the shooter approached, he heard the sound of footsteps, “like he was wearing heavy boots,” but she didn’t hear him say anything, she said.

Then everything went silent, and they heard sirens as police reached the building.

Reporter Rachael Pacella said she tripped and hit her head against the back door, which was jammed shut, then hid between two filing cabinets.

“After a little bit, I heard some yelling, and it was clear that it was police,” she said. “And eventually an officer came into my field of view. It said ‘police’ on the back, and they told us to get out.”

She said she saw McNamara’s body as police led them out with their hands on each other’s backs. They had to step over the body of community editor Wendi Winters to get out the door.

Pacella said she was barefoot. She recalled strategizing with San Felice about how to avoid stepping on the glass from the shattered front door when a police officer scooped her up and carried her out.

Ramos has pleaded guilty, but not criminally responsible — Maryland’s version of an insanity plea — in the deaths of McNamara, Winters, Rob Hiaasen, Rebecca Smith and Gerald Fischman on June 28, 2018. The jury’s verdict will likely determine whether Ramos spends the rest of his life in prison or goes instead to a maximum-security psychiatric hospital.

Earlier in the trial, defense lawyers called mental health professionals who testified that Ramos suffered from delusions, that he has obsessive compulsive disorder, and that he couldn’t appreciate the criminality of his actions.

In her opening argument Thursday, however, Leitess said the case isn’t about mental health, but revenge.

Ramos has harbored a grudge against the Capital since it published an article in 2011 about his conviction for harassing a former high school classmate online and he lost repeated court battles in which he claimed he had been defamed.

As the trial continues Monday, the prosecution is expected to call its own mental health professionals to the witness stand