ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Whether twisting arms to donate blood, writing one of her many feature articles or charging a gunman in her final moments, one of five Maryland newspaper employees killed in a newsroom shooting was remembered Saturday for her passion and commitment to the community she served.
Family, friends and colleagues of Wendi Winters filled the Maryland Hall for Creative Arts in Annapolis to recount the numerous ways she joyfully engaged with the community — stories that brought tears, laughter and applause.
“She was everywhere, but always there for you, and I know this, the world was a lot better when she was here,” said the Rev. John Crestwell, Jr., associate minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis. “This is a massive loss.”
The memorial was held on the same day that The Capital newspaper reported that Winters confronted the man who shot his way into the newsroom. She had taken active shooter training at her church weeks before the June 28 attack. Janel Cooley, a survivor of the shooting, told the newspaper Winters charged forward with a trash can and recycling bin.
Phoenix Geimer, Winters’ son, told hundreds in the audience of how his mother slowed the gunman by charging him, giving police time to arrive and “doubtlessly saving lives.”
“In that instant of extraordinary courage, she gave her heart, she gave her last breath, and she gave her final 8 pints of blood for the defense of the free press and the defense of her family at The Capital in Annapolis,” Geimer said.
The Rev. Fredric Muir, minister emeritus of the church, said the community was mourning “what will now be the silent space that had been created in life.”
“Our loss will be mingled with memories and tears as we recall our relationships with Wendi, as we experience the void now created by her absence,” Muir said.
Steve Gunn, a former editor of The Capital newspaper, recalled the “gangly, kind of quirky person” who had come to tell him how to run the paper when he first arrived. He said she emphasized the importance of him getting out into the community and meeting people, prompting applause from the audience gathered to remember her.
While she didn’t have formal training in journalism training, he described her as “possibly the best hire ever made by a newspaper.”
“She didn’t have the official background, but she had humanity, and that’s what she delivered to the paper every day,” Gunn said.
Yumi Hogan, the first lady of Maryland, described meeting Winters in the summer of 2016, when she had come to the governor’s mansion to write one of her “Home of the Week” articles for the paper.
“Wendi was loved by all who were lucky to have met her and experience her passion and the joy in everything she did,” Hogan said.
While Winters was widely known for her work at the newspaper, the memorial service highlighted a depth of community service beyond her work in journalism.
Violet Apple, CEO of Girl Scouts of Central Maryland, spoke of the 12 years Winters spent as a troop leader.
“She had an incredible impact on our community, “Apple said. “She had an incredible impact on the girls. We honor her memory.”
And then, there were the 72 donations of blood she gave and the work she did in organizing blood drives.
“Helping others, caring for others and taking personal action for others. That is Wendi’s legacy,” said Scott Salemme, CEO of the American Red Cross of the Chesapeake Region.
Winters and four of her colleagues were shot to death by a gunman who had a grudge against the newspaper and blasted his way into the Capital Gazette’s newsroom with a shotgun, authorities said. Rob Hiaasen, Gerald Fischman, John McNamara and Rebecca Smith also died in the attack.
The suspect, Jarrod Ramos, has been charged with five counts of first-degree murder.
Crestwell described the shooting in the state’s capital city of about 40,000 as “a wake-up call to do something,” and he referred to mass shootings that have devastated other communities in the country.
“We unfortunately are now part of the fraternity and sorority of violence that has afflicted so many,” Crestwell said, adding: “We can’t turn a blind eye. It’s personal.”