Santa Fe. Parkland. Las Vegas. Great Mills High School. Sutherland Springs. Sandy Hook. Virginia Tech. The perpetrators of these shootings all share a common trait: a propensity for violence, threats, and anger toward women.
Jarrod Ramos, who murdered five people at the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, MD, in one of the deadliest attacks on journalists in U.S. history, belongs on that list. Staffers Gerald Fischman, Rebecca Smith, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, and Wendi Winters were all killed in the attack.
But he targeted another person who deserves our attention, one who is still alive: his high school classmate, a woman whom he tormented for years.
"He was as angry an individual as I have ever seen," her lawyer Brennan McCarthy told CBS News. "She lost her job because of this individual… He is malevolent. He forwarded a letter to her employer, basically stating that she was bipolar and a drunkard, which is ridiculous."
McCarthy said that after Thursday's shooting, his client told him she is still scared for her life even though her harasser has been locked away. Her response is common considering the unpredictable nature of stalking, according to Qudsia Raja, policy director for the National Domestic Violence Hotline. "Forty-six percent of stalking victims report not knowing what will happen next, and 29% fear that the stalking will never stop. One in 7 victims physically move away to avoid their stalkers, which is disruptive to their lives... Anxiety, insomnia, depression, and other mental health issues are common among stalking victims," she told Refinery29.
Ramos started harassing and stalking her around 2009, after the two became friends on Facebook. In 2011 she took him to court, where he pleaded guilty to criminal harassment and received 18 months of probation. The judge initially imposed a 90-day jail sentence, but then suspended it.
Five days after that, the Capital Gazette wrote a story called, "Jarrod wants to be your friend," which detailed Ramos' abuse. This article would become the source of his vendetta against the paper; he sued the Gazette for defamation but the case was thrown out — the judge said there was nothing to prove that anything in the article false.
According to court documents that quote the article in full, the woman's "yearlong nightmare" began when he wrote to her out of the blue, thanking her for being the only person to say hello or be nice to him in high school. He told her he had some problems and she tried to help by suggesting a counseling center. She said she thought she was just being friendly.
When he became abusive, she stopped writing him back, but he continued. She blocked him on Facebook, but he continued harassing her through email. After she called police, he stopped for a while but then started again. "But when it seemed to me that it was turning into something that gave me a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach, that he seems to think there's some sort of relationship here that does not exist... I tried to slowly back away from it, and he just started getting angry and vulgar to the point I had to tell him to stop," she told a judge.
The woman was put on probation at her job — a supervisor told her it was because Ramos urged the company to fire her — and was later laid off. She said that although she can't prove his harassment was the reason, she believes it was.
Her nightmare story is yet another example of the close connection between abusing women and murder. Because no one acted to prevent him from doing so, he was able to buy a gun and go on a rampage. It's also yet another reminder that law enforcement and courts must stop dismissing harassment and stalking of women.
"There is a high correlation between stalking and homicide, and gender-based violence and mass shootings," Cindy Southworth, executive vice president of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, told Refinery29. She said that while this case was unique — it's rarer for perpetrators to go after those who intervene, which in this case was the newspaper — stalking and violence against women are highly correlated.
In 54% of mass shootings, the shooter killed their partner or family members, according to Everytown for Gun Safety. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 45% of American women who are murdered are killed by their intimate partners. And, American women are 16 times more likely to be killed by a gun than women in other developed countries.
"We tell everyone to do this: Please intervene — name it, call it out as violence and harassment," said Southworth. "We have to call out gender-based violence, because if we're not, we're condoning it."
Southworth said entitlement is a common thread among men who turn violent. "They had never dated, but he felt the same level of entitlement because in his mind he had a 'right to her.' This is his toxic masculinity playing out." She added that she's not surprised he emphasized that she was the only person who was kind to him in high school. "Most perpetrators of violence see themselves as victims," she said. "But it's on you to feel like a complete individual. It's not anyone else's responsibility for you to feel complete and whole."
Gun safety advocates have long fought for laws that keep guns out of the hands of those with a history of stalking and domestic violence, and Maryland has some of the strictest gun policies on the books, including an assault weapons ban and background checks on almost all firearms. Still, they weren't enough in this case.
The shooter, who is being held on five counts of first-degree murder, purchased his 12-gauge pump-action shotgun legally about a year ago, according to Anne Arundel County Police Chief Timothy Altomare.
Maryland's firearm prohibitions for domestic violence-related misdemeanors chiefly apply to handguns, not rifles or shotguns. And a misdemeanor harassment charge does not count as a "disqualifying crime" under the state's law, according to Lindsay Nichols, federal policy director at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
"Harassment is a separate crime than stalking. Stalking would likely have qualified him, but a harassment charge does not," Nichols told Refinery29.
Andrew Karwoski, a counsel at Everytown for Gun Safety, said that Maryland recently signed onto a "red-flag law," which goes into effect in October. Passed in several states in the wake of the Parkland shooting, red-flag laws allow family members or friends to petition a judge for a temporary restraining order which would let law enforcement officers temporarily seize all firearms from a person they believe poses a threat either to themselves or others.
"I think in the context of this shooting, a red-flag law could have gone a long way," especially after the death threats the shooter sent to the Capital Gazette, Karwoski told Refinery29. He added that Maryland law has a loophole when it comes to background checks for shotgun purchases — not all sales require them — which is part of a larger problem nationwide, and could be the reason he was able to get his hands on one.
Once again, the solution comes down to: Believe women. Stop playing hot potato with women's allegations, hoping it will all turn out okay. Do not give stalkers and harassers lenient sentences when it's clear that they pose a threat. Pass. Stricter. Gun laws. Everywhere. Or risk more lives being taken away in shooting after shooting while Republicans continue to belittle us with thoughts and prayers.
"The call for action to everyone is: We need to believe victims and take harassment and gender-based violence seriously. Period. Full stop," said Southworth.
We've reached out to the harassment and stalking survivor's attorney Brennan McCarthy and will update this post when we hear back.