US President Donald Trump has reportedly declined a request to lower American flags to honour the five people killed in last week’s attack on the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland.
The Baltimore Sun reported on Monday that Trump declined a request from Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley to order that flags be lowered to half-staffed – a move usually taken to honour victims of national tragedies.
“Obviously, I’m disappointed,” Buckley told the Baltimore Sun. “Is there a cutoff for tragedy?” he asked.
“This was an attack on the press. It was an attack on freedom of speech. It’s just as important as any other tragedy.”
Four Capital Gazette journalists and one staffer were killed after a man went on a shooting rampage inside the paper’s newsroom on Thursday.
The victims included Rob Hiaasen, 59, the paper’s assistant managing editor; Gerald Fischman, 61, the editorial page editor; Wendi Winters, 65, a features reporter; 56-year-old sports reporter John McNamara and Rebecca Smith, 34, a sales assistant.
Jarrod W Ramos has been charged with five counts of first-degree murder over the killings, which police described as a targeted attack.
|Candles representing the slain journalists of Capital Gazette sit on display during a candlelight vigil [Leah Millis/Reuters]|
According to the Baltimore Sun, Buckley made the request after Republican Governor Larry Hogan had ordered Maryland state flags to be lowered from Friday through Monday.
“It’s not as noticeable when a state flag is down but you still have your main flags at full mast,” Buckley told the Baltimore Sun after the making the request, adding he thought the tragedy merited national attention.
The White House did not immediately respond to the Baltimore Sun’s request for comment.
This was an attack on the press. It was an attack on freedom of speech. It’s just as important as any other tragedy.
Gavin Buckley, Annapolis mayor
Online, many expressed disappointment about the reported refusal, pointing to past comments Trump has made about journalists.
“Wannabe despot who calls journalists ‘the enemy of the people,’ a ‘stain on America’ and ‘scum’ declines to honour slain members of the free press who were gunned down in their newsroom,” political scientist Brain Klass wrote on Twitter.
Wannabe despot who calls journalists “the enemy of the people,” a “stain on America” and “scum” declines to honor slain members of the free press who were gunned down in their newsroom. https://t.co/3GLNxn05Ex
— Brian Klaas (@brianklaas) July 2, 2018
“[Trump] is well aware his rhetoric against the media, calling them fake news, the enemy of the people and more creates a dangerous situation,” Amy Siskind said on Twitter.
This man is unfit to be leading our country. He is well aware his rhetoric against the media, calling them fake news, the enemy of the people and more creates a dangerous situation. He knows he needs to keep doing to promote his lies. https://t.co/mZqtyw5kII
— Amy Siskind (@Amy_Siskind) July 3, 2018
Buckley told the Baltimore Sun that he had considered still lowering the city’s flags to half-staff despite Trump’s decision, but changed his mind, saying “it would start to polarise people and I don’t want to make people angry”.
Trump has order the lowering of flags for other mass shootings including May’s shooting in Santa Fe, Texas that left 10 dead at a local high school and February’s shooting at a Parkland, Florida high school in which 17 people were killed.
Alledged shooter sent threatening letters
New details also emerged on Monday about the alleged shooter.
It had previously been reported that Ramos had a long-standing feud with the paper over an article that detailed a harassment charge that he pleaded guilty to in 2011. Ramos filed a defamation lawsuit against the paper and the columnist who wrote the story in 2012. The case was ultimately dismissed, but according to the Capital Gazette, Ramos continued to express outrage at the paper on social media.
Police told the Washington Post on Monday that Ramos mailed three threatening letters to state courthouses and a law firm before the shooting.
According to the Baltimore Sun, one of the letters said: “I further certify I then did proceed to the office of respondent Capital-Gazette Communications … with the objective of killing every person present.”
News of the letters came as hundreds gathered to remember editor Rob Hiaasen.
According to the Capital Gazette, family and friends shared memories of Hiaasen, who was described a loving father and supportive colleague.
“He prowled around the grittier areas of Baltimore looking for stories,” the newspaper quoted Kevin Cowherd, a long-time friend of Hiaasen, as saying.
|Capital Gazette staffer Pat Furgurson says a few words during a candlelight vigil [Leah Millis/Reuters]|