On June 28, 2018, Jarrod W. Ramos, entered the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland and killed four journalists and a sales assistant with a shotgun. The shooting is the latest in targeted attacks that could have been deterred with intervention.
Ramos had a history dating back five years, of tweeting threats against the newspaper, but a police detective concluded Ramos was not a threat to employees at the Capital Gazette. Executives at the Gazette opted to refuse to press charges against Ramos because they were afraid of “putting a stick in a beehive.”
Ramos had filed a defamation suit against the newspaper in 2012 after the paper ran a story about him pleading guilty to harassing a woman. Ramos then repeatedly targeted staff members with angry, profanity laced tweets.
A review of the tweets indicated a progression of anger that became more specific as time went on. Clearly, Ramos was narrowing his focus and telegraphing his intentions to harm employees at the Gazette. Tweets such as, “blood in the water”, “hit man”, “open season”, and “glad there won’t be murderous rampage, murder career”, clearly transmitted his intentions.
A review of the case revealed that Ramos engaged in “Threat Posturing”, by sending specific threats via tweets. In 2015 Ramos tweeted that he would like to see the paper shut down, but “it would be nicer to see two of its journalists cease breathing.”
Ramos engaged in preparatory behaviors by purchasing a shotgun and smoke grenades, despite pleading guilty to harassing a woman for which he was charged.
Ramos engaged in “Rehearsal Fantasies” by engaging in leakage with tweets about his intentions. He barricaded the rear exit of the office to prevent anyone from escaping indicating the attack was planned out in advance.
The disturbing element about this shooting is that the characteristics of Ramos targeted violence attack followed the same similar scenario that all targeted attacks have in common. The perpetrator is extremely angry and feels they have been unfairly treated by either a person or institution. They began to engage in threat posturing, preparatory behaviors and rehearsal fantasies. The perpetrator begins to narrow their focus and make more specific threats.
In this case like most attacks, the warning signs were there, but no intervention occurred.
The police detective should have deferred his assessment to a trained professional to determine if Ramos was dangerous. A temporary restraining order should have been issued, thus allowing the police to seize his shotgun and deny sales of any weapons to Ramos. Ramos could have been arrested had the Gazette pressed charges for engaging in terrorist threats. Lastly, Ramos should have been interviewed by a trained threat assessment professional to manage the threat and strategize with the Gazette on how to deter the assault.
The lesson of this attack, like other targeted violent attacks, is once a person engages in threats of harm, intervention has to occur to deter a perpetrator from acting out.
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Ron Williams, CFS
United States Secret Service-Retired