‘Their response mattered’: Capital Gazette shooting responders honored

For the first time, emergency responders and an eyewitness who helped victims after the 2018 shooting at the Capital Gazette have been formally honored, in Annapolis, Maryland.

“I am so honored to be able to talk about something that I wanted to talk about for three years but couldn’t do so until today,” said Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess on Monday during the first Crime Victims’ Rights Week Awards ceremony since the sentencing of the gunman who killed Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiassen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters.

Survivors and family members of victims of the five people who died in a mass shooting at the Capital Gazette newspaper dedicated a memorial to them and the First Amendment on June 28, 2021,  on the third anniversary of the attack (WTOP/Meghan Cloherty).

Jarrod Ramos, 41, was handed the maximum sentence possible — five consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole — by Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge Michael Wachs at a sentencing hearing in September. Ramos was found criminally responsible for the shooting during a jury trial last summer.

Leitess issued awards to seven people — six members of law enforcement, and one eyewitness — who she said performed heroic acts during the mass shooting in the Capital Gazette newsroom on June 28, 2018, and who assisted in prosecuting the gunman to the fullest extent of the law.

“We continue to this day to recover, four years later,” Leitess said.

In describing the bravery, she quoted President Franklin Roosevelt: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.”

In the outdoor ceremony at Acton’s Cove Waterfront Park, where a memorial garden honors the slain Capital Gazette employees, Leitiss presented an award to Keith Cyphers, an insurance salesman whose office in the building at 888 Bestgate was a dozen feet from the front entrance of the newspaper.

He dialed 911 after hearing the first shotgun blast, Leitess said. For eight minutes, Cyphers described to the dispatcher the movements and appearance of the suspect in great detail.

“His accurate description of the suspect meant that the police could identify the suspect amid the rescue of survivors,” said Leitess. “His calm actions that day were vital to both police and prosecutors because we used him to present a compelling narrative at trial.”

Leitess said Cyphers’ testimony at trial countered the defendant’s insanity defense: “His descriptions were so incredible that they helped refute and debunk any claim that this attack was committed by an individual who was unable to control himself or conform his behavior to the law.”

Awards were also presented to Anne Arundel County Police Cpls. Danelo Sobers and Ryan McGeeney and Detective Greg Lesane  — the first officers to arrive. Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Brian Williams and now-retired Cpl. Barry Byers were honored, for their actions in the early minutes of the mass shooting.

“Their response mattered because the assailant would later tell authorities that he had heard them and stopped what he was doing, because of them,” Leitess said.

The lead investigator in the case, Detective Jason DePietro was awarded for collection of evidence that convinced the jury the shooter was not insane.

DePietro located credit card transactions to track down the purchase of the weapon and other supplies the attacker had gathered in preparation. Surveillance video from banks “captured the assailant engaging in mundane tasks, like any other ordinary person would do,” which Leitess said demonstrated the shooter was criminally responsible.

“This was not a ‘who done it,'” said Leitess. “But what he did is he found evidence that the prosecution could use to illustrate to the jury that this assailant was criminally responsible for his crime, and he should be sent to prison not a hospital.”

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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