Echoes of Killdozer? Five journalists killed in Annapolis, Maryland
Five newspaper employees are dead after a shooting at a community newspaper, The Capital Gazette, in Annapolis, Md.
After learning about this tragedy my heart sank and I shook my head in dismay. I know what it’s like to work at a newspaper and face an attacker who could kill. Our attacker had a longstanding dispute with the town and, at times, our newspaper.
That’s exactly what happened to me and members of my staff at the Sky-Hi News in Granby, Colorado on June 4, 2004. Marv Heemeyer, in the midst of his Killdozer rampage in Granby, also decided to destroy the main offices and production plant for the Sky-Hi News. I worked there as a managing editor and publisher for the Grand County Newspapers.
I was standing in the front of our building as we were covering the Killdozer rampage. The Killdozer, a Komatsu bulldozer that Marv Heemeyer had turned into a tank, complete with armor and guns, slammed into the building, making the front 18-foot-high wall collapse. If I had tripped at that moment, I probably would not have made it out of the building alive.
Newspaper attacked by bulldozer tank
Heemeyer drove the dozer in and out of the building several times, destroying it completely. As I ran to the back of the building in an effort to escape the building was literally collapsing around us. Drywall dust and the acrid plumes of crushed concrete filled the air. The dozer engine roared and the treads on the bulldozer-tank squealed, as if a giant was scraping his nails on a blackboard.
Luckily, no one was killed in Heemeyer’s rampage that day. It’s clear that Heemeyer didn’t care if he killed people. After all, he shot at police and perceived enemies, he completely destroyed buildings where occupants could have been crushed to death. He tried to blow up the town by shooting at (but missing) large propane tanks in eastern Granby. (No one was killed, that is, other than Heemeyer himself, who committed suicide once his rampage was finished.)
I always knew when I worked in the newspaper business that I would at some point make readers angry. That goes with the territory. But I had never imagined that the anger would be turned into fatal fury to the point where I or my co-workers could be killed.
But that’s just what happened in Granby and it’s exactly what happened in Annapolis, Md.
The shooter in Maryland had an ongoing beef with the newspaper there and had even sued it for defamation. That lawsuit was thrown out by the courts. He also feuded with the paper through social media posts and continued confrontations with reporters that worked there..
Heemeyer had a feud of sorts with the paper here in Granby where I worked. It all started during the time when a group of businessmen in Grand Lake were working hard to bring legalized gambling to the town. Our newspapers, the Sky-Hi News and Grand Lake Prospector, campaigned against bringing legalized gambling to the town in our columns and editorials on the opinion page.
Heemeyer sided with the pro-gambling contingent and he railed against the stand of our newspaper. He even went so far as to start his own newspaper, called The Grand Gazette, in order to promote legalized gambling and as a foil to our newspaper’s coverage. He came out with three editions.
Heemeyer never forgot conflict with our newspaper
He lost that fight as the gambling attempt was thrown out by the Grand Lake voters. But Heemeyer never forgot that battle with the newspaper.
His next experience with our newspaper took place when he was fighting the attempt to bring a new concrete batch plant into town on land next to his Mountain View Muffler muffler repair business. Irked by his inability to sell his property to the owners of the batch plant property at highly inflated prices, Heemeyer vowed to stop their attempt to get town approval for the new concrete batch plant.
It was a very public fight with extensive coverage in our newspaper. Heemeyer ran numerous letters to the editor and he was quoted extensively in his fight. He even ended up suing the town of Granby and the concrete batch plant owners in District Court. He lost that suit and the concrete batch plant was approved.
While I went out of my way to present Heemeyer’s opinion and point of view on the pages of our newspapers, Heemeyer ended up putting me in with the group of “back-stabbing” locals who didn’t like Marv because he said we disparagingly thought of him as a “newcomer.”
When conspiracies drive violent action
Marv developed a conspiracy about why the batch plant was ultimately approved, claiming the town broke state laws and was corrupt in its dealing with the batch plant owners. Combine that with his idea that people in town “snickered behind his back” because he was a newcomer and we have a full-blowing conspiracy theory that Heemeyer believed or at least promulgated to justify his rampage.
It’s probable (the Annapolis shooter, Jarrod W. Ramos is not cooperating with police in their investigation) that the Annapolis shooter developed his own conspiracy theory about why the paper was acting against him.
Community newspapers like the Sky-Hi News in Granby and The Capital Gazette in Annapolis were attacked because they cast the light of day on the civic and criminal affairs of their communities. People who thought they were wronged by that coverage lashed back in illegal and murderous ways.
What a tragedy it is that five journalists are now dead in Maryland. What a tragedy it was that Heemeyer caused $10 million worth of damage over imagined slights.
But the ongoing tragedy from these events is the fact that journalists will be looking over their shoulders even more as attacks on America’s fourth estate continue.
That’s not good for journalism. But it’s even worse for democracy in the United States.