A hero for our times
By Jean Godden
I have a new hero. Her name is Wendi Winters and she undoubtedly saved lives while sacrificing her own. Ms. Winters -- or perhaps I can be forgiven for calling her Wendi since she was a reporter who covered local events and wrote feature stories and interviewed young people. She was one of us.
Wendi was one of the five journalists gunned down in the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, Md., on June 28. The gunman, identified as Jarrod Ramos, had written a letter vowing to "kill every person in the newsroom." His vendetta had to do with the loss of a lawsuit against the paper years ago.
On that June day when the gunman shot his way into the newsroom, staff members scrambled to flee and hide under their desks. Not Wendi. She grabbed a trash can and a recycling bin and charged the shooter. She was heard saying something like "No! You stop that."
The 65-year-old journalist, mother of four, was practicing what she had learned in a Rapid Response class taken weeks ago at her Universalist Unitarian Church. She had been told that, when confronted by a shooter, you should first run or -- if you can't -- hide and then, as a last resort, fight back. She made the decision to fight.
Her brave action charging the shooter most likely saved lives. Reporter Rachael Pacella said, "She absolutely saved my life." Wendi's action bought time and gave others the chance to flee and hide.
The attack at the Capital Gazette reminds us of the vulnerability of journalists. The job is dangerous even in a country with First Amendment protections for free speech. Few are the newspapers in this country that have not had death threats. I had a serious one myself, even though I mostly wrote light-hearted columns in those days.
In the aftermath of the most deadly newspaper shooting since the Charley Hebdo attack in Paris in 2015, Capital Gazette's survivors, true to their mission, put out Friday's paper and arranged for alternative facilities while their office remained a crime scene. Some reporters worked from the bed of a pickup truck parked in a nearby shopping mall garage.
President Trump condemned the shooting as "horrible" and made a rather tepid comment saying that "all people should free of being violently attacked while doing their jobs." However, he delayed five days before calling for lowering of American flags to honor those slain.
It probably was inevitable that, in the aftermath of the shooting, there would be much finger pointing. Sean Hannity, the president's favorite news commentator, somehow blamed Rep. Maxine Waters, apparently because of her calls for incivility over family separations. Alt-right spokesman Milo Yiannopoulous dodged blame, saying he was "not serious" when he called for gunning down journalists.
There was general acknowledgement that the murderous attack was clearly the result of a long-held grudge on the part of the gunman, something not connected to the national scene.
The tragedy could not be blamed on the President Trump even though he has repeatedly called journalists "the enemy of the people." He still repeats phrases like "fake news" and calls journalists "bad people." His continued provocations risk inciting those who might act out for other reasons.
Following the tragedy, the staff of the Capital Gazette published a letter of thanks to readers for their outpourings of sympathy. Signed by a dozen of the newspaper's staffers, the thank you letter acknowledged that the staff would not soon forget being called "the enemy of the people."
What I won't forget is the fortitude and strength of those who can do the work of putting out a newspaper just hours after seeing friends and colleagues mowed down. And most especially I won't forget the bravery of feature writer Wendi Winters. I clipped out her story -- one reason I subscribe to a print newspaper -- and tacked that story next to my computer. I expect to think of her brave act daily.