LAUREL, Md.—Capital Gazette staff were shown a photo of Jarrod W. Ramos years ago, and warned that if they ever saw him to call 911, a former editor and publisher said.
Authorities on Friday charged Mr. Ramos with five counts of first-degree murder following Thursday’s deadly attack there.
Thomas Marquardt, who led the paper when Mr. Ramos’s grudge against the Annapolis, Md., newspaper started, described the suspect as the most threatening person he ever had to deal with as a journalist. He said he asked the newspaper’s lawyers to contact the Anne Arundel County sheriff’s office to investigate what he considered to be obvious threats.
“Some people have said the threats were veiled, but it was pretty clear to us working there at the time,” said Mr. Marquardt, who stepped down in 2012 but continued to write for the paper. “They weren’t vague to me at all. I felt threatened the whole time.”
Mr. Marquardt said the suspect had launched a Twitter account that he directed at the newspaper and its staff. At one point, Mr. Ramos tweeted implying he wished Mr. Marquardt was dead, he said.
“Everyone knew what he looked like,” said the 70-year-old former editor and publisher, now retired and living in Florida. “We took it very seriously.”
Site of shooting
Mr. Ramos allegedly entered the office at around 2:30 p.m. Thursday, shooting out the doors and then shooting people he encountered inside, according to documents filed in court. He then attempted to conceal himself under a desk until police arrived, the statement said.
The victims were identified as Rob Hiaasen, 59 years old, an assistant editor and columnist; Wendi Winters, 65, who headed special publications; Gerald Fischman, 61, editorial page editor; John McNamara, 56, a staff writer; and Rebecca Smith, 34, a sales assistant, according to the Capital Gazette’s report of the incident.
The gunman carried out the attack, which also injured two people, with a 12-gauge, pump-action shotgun. Speaking Friday, Anne Arundel County Police Chief Tim Altomare said the suspect purchased the gun legally about a year ago. He also said authorities found evidence in the suspect’s home that show he had planned Thursday’s assault, but didn’t elaborate.
“This was a targeted attack,” the chief said. “We can’t fathom why that person chose to do this.” He said the suspect hasn’t been cooperative.
Police had investigated Mr. Ramos in May 2013 because of threatening online comments, Mr. Altomare said. A detective assigned to the case spoke with legal counsel for the Capital Gazette. The paper declined to pursue criminal charges, he said.
“There was a fear that doing so would exacerbate an already flammable situation,” he said.
Friday morning, the Dona apartment complex in Laurel, Md., where Mr. Ramos lived, was mostly quiet. Several neighbors went in and out of the complex, but most declined to comment. A few police cars passed by the complex.
Ismael Reyes, who said he has lived in the same apartment building as Mr. Ramos for about seven years, said he rarely saw Mr. Ramos.
“I can’t tell you much about him,” said Mr. Reyes, a Navy veteran. “He was a hermit.”
Mr. Reyes added that when he first moved into the apartment, he tried to say hi to Mr. Ramos, but Mr. Ramos blew him off. “If he did that to these people, he could have shot me if I got on his bad side,” he said. “It just doesn’t seem real.”
Another neighbor, Vanessa McDermott, said she didn’t know Mr. Ramos and that people mostly kept to themselves in the apartment complex. She said she was shocked.
The accused shooter had a yearslong feud with the Capital, one of the papers under the Capital Gazette group. In 2014, the Capital Gazette group was sold by Landmark Communications to the Baltimore Sun Media Group, a division of Tronc Inc.
“Our hearts are forever broken. Gerald, Rob, Wendi, John and Rebecca will never be forgotten. They were not only our colleagues but also our friends,” said Trif Alatzas, publisher and editor in chief of the Baltimore Sun Media Group.
Landmark sold its last newspaper property to Tronc earlier this year. Through a variety of asset sales and restructurings, the company has now become a media and information services business called Dominion Enterprises. A message left with Dominion Enterprises wasn’t immediately returned.
Six years ago, Mr. Ramos launched a legal fight over the paper’s 2011 article about Mr. Ramos’s guilty plea to criminal harassment, according to court records. He received a suspended jail sentence and probation, records show.
The article, titled “Jarrod wants to be your friend,” was published five days after the guilty plea and detailed what the newspaper said was Mr. Ramos’s campaign of harassment against a female classmate from high school with whom he had connected on Facebook.
In July 2012, Mr. Ramos sued, claiming the article injured his reputation and exposed him to “public scorn, hatred, contempt, and ridicule.” He named as defendants Capital-Gazette Communications LLC, the Capital’s editor and publisher at the time and the former Capital staff writer and columnist who wrote the piece.
A judge dismissed the defamation suit after finding no basis for the allegations. Mr. Ramos, representing himself, appealed, and in 2015, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld the lower court ruling, saying Mr. Ramos didn’t “come close to alleging a case of defamation.”
Neither the columnist, Eric Hartley, nor Mr. Marquardt are still employed by the Capital Gazette, according to the paper. They weren’t present during the shootings.
A Twitter account under the name Jarrod W. Ramos, which uses Mr. Hartley’s name as a handle, includes a link to Mr. Ramos’s court complaint against the paper as well as negative comments about the paper and journalists. The account appeared to be inactive between January 2016 and Thursday, when a tweet was posted with a derogatory remark about the judge who wrote the 2015 appeals-court decision.
The account’s bio said: “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 Twitter account was suspended early Friday.
—Lukas I. Alpert and Alexa Corse contributed to this article.