First responders to the Capital Gazette shooting knew the victims

FILE - In this June 28, 2018 file photo, Maryland police officers patrol the area after multiple people were shot at at The Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Md. A grand jury has leveled 23 charges against a man accused of killing five people in a mass shooting at a Maryland newsroom. In a news release Friday, July 20, Anne Arundel County State's Attorney Wes Adams announced the indictments against Jarrod Ramos in the June 28 attack at the Capital-Gazette office in Annapolis. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

WASHINGTON — Nearly a month after five people were killed in a mass shooting at the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, the community is still healing, as are the first responders who tried to save their lives and protected others.

Last week, all three responding law enforcement agencies met to talk about the event and how they are working through the trauma. It was the largest multi-agency debriefing in Anne Arundel County Police Chief Tim Altomare’s memory.

“The last real after-action of notable size was our participation in the Baltimore riots,” he said.

The Annapolis police, county police, and Sheriff’s Department discussed changes to tactical gear and details about the timeline of response, but Altomare said his primary concern was assessing his first responders’ mental health.

“So I could clap eyes on all my people and look them in the eyes and figure out if we’re doing OK. Because some of us are struggling with this thing,” he said.

Just like the five people killed in the June 28 shooting — including reporters Wendi Winters and Rob Hiasson — Altomare said people often forget that the responding police officers are also members of the community.

“Personally, it’s very hard. I’ve met pretty much every one of those victims over the years … Miss Wendi did human interest stuff that was always warm and cool. Rob Hiasson was either bitingly sarcastic or hugely funny; both of those things I appreciate. … That was hugely tough,” Altomare said.

Based on what he has heard from officers, Altomare has begun making changes, including asking the training academy to research rifles with shorter barrels to allow smoother maneuvering in crowded spaces.

“Any office or residential space gets tight when you’re carrying 16 inches of barrel or 20 inches of barrel on a weapon. So we’ll look at that,” he said.

He’s also considering getting officers custom-made earpieces that, because they are more comfortable, are easier for officers to keep in place to hear radio traffic.

“I don’t think they were a big inhibitor on this scene. I think we did fine. But I want to spend the money to get the officers the specially made earpieces that you can keep in your ear for eight hours without it killing you,” he said.

The review will also examine whether counseling services are sufficient, Altomare said.

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