Family, friends and community members packed into the Maryland Hall in Annapolis Friday night to remember the five Capital Gazette employees who died after a gunman opened fire in their newsroom exactly one year ago.
Friday marked the inaugural Hope and Remembrance event, which will be held annually on June 28 — Maryland’s Freedom of the Press Day.
The event is meant to remember the five Capital Gazette staffers that lost their lives: John McNamara, Wendi Winters, Rob Hiaasen, Gerald Fishman and Rebecca Smith.
A vocal trio kicked off the concert by singing a song with a chorus of “Press on, press on.”
The sentiment echoed the actions of surviving Capital Gazette’s staff, who continued to report on their own tragedy even in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.
“When we think of hope tonight, let’s honor their optimism and professionalism about our community,” said Mayor Gavin Buckley.
Maryland’s First Lady Yumi Hogan said she will cherish the time she spent with Winters, who covered the governor’s Holiday Open House.
“Last year’s holiday open house was not the same with her,” Hogan said.
For members of the Capital Gazette staff and the families of the victims that spoke, emotions were still raw.
Editor Rick Hutzell teared up while singing with the audience a line from James Taylor “Fire and Rain,” which ends with the words “I always thought that I’d see you again.”
James Taylor, he said was a favorite of Rob Hiaasen.
Hutzell did get a few chuckles from the audience, though, when he joked with the crowd about Gerald Fischman’s high standards for the paper.
“For those of you who have submitted poems to the letter to the editor section, blame Gerald that they did not run,” Hutzell said.
Rob Hiaasen’s wife, Maria, remembered her late husband as a “wordsmith” who was a loving, devoted husband. Her birthday tragically aligns with the shooting. She recalled how her husband gave her a gift that morning and asked her if she wanted to open it then or later.
“I said, ‘Later, we’re going to have more time,’” Hiaasen said. “That is not what happened.”
— Mike Murillo (@MikeMurilloWTOP) June 29, 2019
At the conclusion of her comments, the crowd sang Happy Birthday to Hiaasen.
Rebecca Smith, who worked in the paper’s sales department, was remembered as someone who made an impact on clients, at times going above and beyond to help them.
John McNamara’s widow, Andrea Chamblee, offered words on her husband, but also spoke about her fight to strengthen gun laws in the wake of the tragedy. She told the crowd that before her husband died, he promised to grow old with her.
“His promises were broken, not just by the man who pulled the trigger, but by politicians who let dangerous people like him get firearms and ammunition,” Chamblee said.
Summerleigh Geimer, daughter of Wendi Winters, said simply honoring victims is not enough. She used her moment on the stage to encourage the audience push for gun reform in Maryland.
“Folded flags and certificates can fill up the spaces on our walls and kitchen tables, but they cannot fill the bullet holes in our hearts,” Geimer said.
Photojournalist Paul Gillespie, who survived the shooting, said the last year has been difficult, but the community’s support kept the Capital Gazette staff going.
On the one year anniversary of the shooting, survivor Paul Gillespie @pwgphoto speaks about the past year and the outpouring of support it brought from the community. @WTOP #CapitalGazette pic.twitter.com/xrnKMmDCko
— Mike Murillo (@MikeMurilloWTOP) June 28, 2019
“We’ve had nothing but love come from the people of Anne Arundel County and Annapolis, it’s just been remarkable,” Gillespie said. “It helps.”
The event closed with the lighting of a candlelight vigil outside Maryland Hall, in honor of those who were lost.
Just behind the vigil, a banner could be seen with a message that has served as a source of hope and healing for the city.
It read “Annapolis Strong.”