Novelist and Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen’s brother was among those killed Thursday in a newsroom shooting in Annapolis, Maryland, his family confirmed.
Rob Hiaasen was assistant managing editor and a columnist at The Capital newspaper where he was hired in 2010. He was 59.
“There was no finer human being, there just wasn’t,” Rob Hiaasen’s widow, Maria, said Thursday night, her 58th birthday. “And certainly no finer father, and he was a damn fine journalist too.”
A birthday package from her husband still awaited her, Maria Hiaasen said. Rob Hiaasen had asked her if she wanted to open her gift Thursday morning, but she told him she’d rather wait until he got home from work.
He never made it back home. The shooting on the first-floor of the newspaper’s building occurred at about 2:40 p.m. The couple had celebrated their 33rd wedding anniversary six days earlier.
The Hiaasens grew up in the Fort Lauderdale area. Rob graduated from Plantation High School before attending the University of Florida. He previously worked at the Palm Beach Post and for 15 years at the Baltimore Sun.
This last spring the father of three taught his first reporting course at the University of Maryland’s journalism school. He looked forward to the fall term, Maria Hiaasen said.
“I just want people to know what an incredibly gentle, generous and gifted guy my brother was,” Carl Hiaasen told the Washington Post. “He was an unforgettably warm and uplifting presence as a father and brother. But he also had dedicated his whole life to journalism.”
In a Facebook posting mourning the loss of his brother, Carl Hiaasen wrote, “We called him Big Rob because he was so tall, but it was his remarkable heart and humor that made him larger than all of us.”
On Friday morning, Carl Hiaasen told CNN his brother was, “the rock of our family,” who, “believed in the mission and the craft of hometown journalism."
"He was doing what he loved to do which was put out a paper for the people of Annapolis," he said.
Five people were confirmed dead and two suffered superficial injuries, Acting Anne Arundel County Police Chief William Krampf told reporters at an 8 p.m. news conference.
“This was a targeted attack on The Capital Gazette,” he said.
“He went into that building to kill people,” Lt. Ryan Frashure, of the Anne Arundel County Police Department, said.
The gunman, a Maryland resident identified as Jarrod Ramos, 38, has been taken into custody and is currently being questioned but is not cooperating with authorities. He had a long-running dispute with the paper.
Investigators are looking into social media threats that “indicated violence” sent to the newspaper possibly by the shooter as recently as Thursday afternooon, Krampf said.
Tweets from a crime reporter at the paper, Phil Davis, put the terror into first-person.
"Gunman shot through the glass door to the office and opened fire on multiple employees," he tweeted. "Can't say much more and don't want to declare anyone dead, but it's bad."
In another tweet Davis said: "There is nothing more terrifying than hearing multiple people get shot while you're under your desk and then hear the gunman reload."
Rob Hiaasen’s current and former co-workers remembered him as a lanky, endearingly goofy storyteller, committed to both the reporting and narrative writing ends of his profession.
“He could be deadly serious about doing investigative reporting, but he also had a soft side,” said Tom Marquardt, former editor and publisher of the Capital Gazette. “He had a special insight into people’s lives and their character."
As a writer, he was drawn to quirky stories, and had a unique way of telling them, with wry asides and internal and imagined dialogues.
“Feel free to disagree,” he wrote in a recent column in which he listed the best 10 songs about rain. “Feel free to be wrong. (Yes, we're cranky. Aren't you in all this slop?)”
Marquardt said Rob Hiaasen was hired to add a more human dimension to news coverage, and indeed became known for stories about people and community life. As someone who lived a “multi-faceted life,” Hiaasen was particularly helpful to less experienced journalists.
Rob Hiaasen, a lover of narrative and features writing, relished working with cub reporters at The Capital, Maria Hiaasen said.
“He was a great mentor to younger reporters,” Marquardt said.
Tina Reed, a former Capital reporter, was one of those reporters.
“He was a philosopher and a poet,” Reed, 33, said. “He was a coach, and he was a mentor. He wanted to teach young journalists to be better.”
He had a serious side as well, and earlier this year the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Press Association awarded Rob Hiaasen first place in a feature column category for a piece about only realizing as a grown-up that the Fort Lauderdale beach at which he spent many a happy childhood day was segregated.
“Is there a statute of limitations on childhood naivete? On adult un-education?” he opened the column. He went on to detail “wade-in” protests staged by the NAACP and, in other towns, the firebombing of the home of civil rights activists, lynching, and other violence — none of which he knew about as he was growing up.
“Little did I know,” he concluded, sadly.
In 2004, Rob Hiaasen was a Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University. His colleagues there lamented Rob Hiaasen’s death and the vilification of the media.
“Our hearts are broken by the senseless shooting at the Capital Gazette,” said Michael D. Bolden, the fellowship’s managing director. “Journalists like Rob do essential work in each of our communities, and an attack on them and the free press is an attack on each one of us and the democratic values we cherish.
“We stand with the victims in Annapolis, with Rob’s family, and with journalists everywhere whose work makes our society better — on this sad day and every day.”
The Capital is owned by the Baltimore Sun, a sister paper of the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
Reporter Wayne K. Roustan contributed to this story.