Five people have been shot dead and others injured in what police described as a “targeted attack” on a newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland.
William Krampf, Anne Arundel county’s acting police chief, said during a news conference on Thursday evening that officers were investigating a possible past dispute between the gunman and the newspaper’s staff. The shooter was arrested minutes after he began the rampage by police without further exchange of gunfire.
Late on Thursday, the suspect was identified by several news organizations as Jarrod Ramos, 38. Police were searching a property in Laurel, Maryland, linked to him.
Ramos had a long history of antagonism towards the Capital Gazette newspaper. In 2012, he sued several editors at the paper claiming defamation after one of its columnists, Eric Hartley, reported that Ramos had pleaded guilty to criminal harassment of a woman on social media.
Ramos’s lawsuit was dismissed by a judge in 2013 and the ruling upheld by a higher Maryland court in 2015, as the Capital Gazette itself reported.
In a late press briefing on Thursday, Anne Arundel police named the five employees who died. They were: Wendi Winters, Rebecca Smith, Robert Hiaasen, Gerald Fishman and John McNemara.
Hiaasen’s brother, the best-selling author Carl Hiaasen, wrote on his Facebook page that Robert was “one of the most gentle and funny people I’ve ever known. He spent his whole gifted career as a journalist, and he believed profoundly in the craft and mission of serving the public’s right to know the news.”
The gunman opened fire with a shotgun in the newsroom. Dozens of police officers and federal agents responded within minutes. “He entered the building with a shotgun and he located his victims as he walked through the lower level,” Krampf said.
He added that two people remained injured with minor wounds. He said officers were informing the next of kin of people who had been killed.
Krampf said officers had secured the suspect’s home in Maryland and were awaiting search warrants. He said a package earlier feared to contain explosives was found to contain smoke canisters.
“This person was prepared to shoot people. His intention was to cause harm,” he said.
Phil Davis, the Capital Gazette’s courts and crime reporter, said the man shot his way in through the newspaper’s glass door before firing at people inside the office. Davis said he heard multiple colleagues being shot at as he hid under a desk.
Anthony Messenger, whose online biography said he was an intern at the newspaper, posted a series of tweets reporting a shooter at the office and appealing for help.
Injured victims were taken to local hospitals including the shock trauma center at the University of Maryland and the Anne Arundel Medical Center, according to spokespeople. Four people were found dead at the scene and a fifth died in hospital.
Danielle Ohl, another reporter at the newspaper, said fellow reporter Rachael Pacella was injured and hospitalized.
“For those reaching out with support, I thank you,” Ohl tweeted. “I will say this: The Capital is not a big newsroom. There are about 20 news staffers, a few more advertising. We are close. We are family. I am devastated.”
Larry Hogan, the governor of Maryland, said: “Your heart goes out to all the people who lost their lives, to all their families.” Officials declined to comment on any suspected motive for the shooting.
Steve Schuh, the Anne Arundel county executive, told CNN that the suspected shooter was found by police hiding under a desk in the office with his gun on the floor beside him.
Officials said the suspect was not being cooperative. He was taken to the department’s criminal investigation division in Crownsville. Citing a law enforcement official, the Associated Press reported he had mutilated his fingerprints in an apparent effort to avoid identification.
Bethany Clasing, a legal assistant who works on the floor above the Capital Gazette, told the Guardian: “I was really confused at first – it’s not like you would expect someone to come and shoot up this building.”
Clasing said police officers arrived quickly. “They were shouting to get down,” she said. She was then evacuated across the street to a shopping mall.
Carlos Linares, a mechanical engineer who was on the fourth floor of the building for a meeting with his lawyer, said he heard a man shouting at about 2.55pm followed by a commotion. “I’ve never see so many cops in my life,” said Linares, who said he was also in the Pentagon when it was attacked on 9/11.
Officials said police officers responded to the shooting within 90 seconds of receiving an emergency call. About 170 people were soon seen streaming from the offices, many with their hands in the air, as officers evacuated the building.
Gavin Buckley, the Annapolis mayor, praised the responding officers. “If they were not there as quickly it could have been a lot worse,” said Buckley. The mayor said city authorities recently underwent active shooter training. “We did not expect something like this to happen in our community, but we were ready,” he said.
Lt Ryan Frashure, a spokesman for Anne Arundel county police, said the suspect was being interrogated by officers and the scene was being searched for evidence. “We anticipate this being a very long investigation, a very detailed investigation, by our detectives,” said Frasure.
Joshua McKerrow, a photojournalist for the Capital Gazette, tweeted several pictures of officers responding to the shooting. McKerrow said an edition of the newspaper, featuring reports on the shooting, would be published on Friday.
Two state highways were closed in Anne Arundel county because of the police activity, according to the Maryland state highway administration.
The attack on the newspaper was the latest in a series of mass shootings in the US in the past year that have renewed calls among Democrats and activists for tighter restrictions on gun ownership, which are dismissed by Republicans.
Congressman Anthony Brown, whose district includes the newspaper’s office, told the Guardian he was “deeply saddened and troubled” by the spate of killings. “Too many times around the country, in such a short period of time,” said Brown, “churches, theaters and today in a newsroom.”
The shooting prompted new condemnation of Donald Trump’s demonisation of the media. The president has repeatedly called the press “the enemy of the people” and encourages crowds at his rallies to join him in deriding journalists.
Returning to the White House later on Thursday after a visit to Wisconsin, Trump smiled and silently walked past reporters who shouted questions to him about the shooting and his past comments on the press.
Asked about the president’s attacks on the press in light of the shooting, Lindsay Walters, a White House spokeswoman, said Trump and his staff did not condone violence in any situation. “We stand by that,” said Walters.
Trump said in a tweet that he had been briefed on the shooting. “My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families,” he wrote. “Thank you to all of the first responders who are currently on the scene.”
The New York police department sent officers to the headquarters of major media organisations in the city as a precaution following the shooting in Maryland, according to Peter Donald, a department spokesman.
A Twitter page under the same name as the suspect Jarrod Ramos used the internet handle @EricHartleyFrnd. The user of the account introduces himself by saying: “Dear reader: I created this page to defend myself. Now I’m suing the shit out of half of AA County and making corpses of corrupt careers and corporate entities.” The Capital Gazette newspaper is headquartered in Anne Arundel county.
The Twitter feed was silent from January 2016 until an entry was posted on Thursday afternoon. It said: “Fuck you, leave me alone”.