For Andrea Chamblee June 28 was a normal work day like any other, until her phone started ringing off the hook.
Chamblee, a Food and Drug attorney, said she was bombarded with messages about her husband, a reporter at the Capital Gazette, and a shooting breaking out in Annapolis.
Frantically she put on the news and saw the banner ‘Shooting at Annapolis Capital’ and dialed her husband 56-year-old John McNamara’s cell phone.
‘I call his office phone. I call his cellphone. There is no answer. I know there are times he forgets his phone. I recall each of those times to myself,’ Chamblee wrote in a feature in The Washington Post.
Chamblee drops her head into her hand at the funeral for her husband McNamara after he was one of the five journalists killed in the shooting at the Capital Gazette newspaper
Mourners gathered at a ceremony to remember McNamara’s life on July 10 in Maryland
Chamblee, pictured center, marched at a vigil held the day after the shooting, clutching onto a headline by the paper announcing the death of her husband
Chamblee recounted watching the television with a hawk’s eye, searching the screen for John’s bright blue shirt.
When she heard about a tweet that said someone was dead, her stomach dropped.
Later she received a call from the New York Daily news asking for a statement.
‘About what? What do you know?’ she asked, followed by an awkward silence. A similar call from Good Morning America followed soon after.
Soon after the shooting a family information hotline number was created and a family waiting area was set up at a nearby Lord and Taylor store.
‘A friend already in Annapolis goes there and tells me there is no information, no water and no bathrooms in the pen-like area where families are corralled. I prepare to go to my mom’s home in Columbia, Maryland instead,’ Chamblee recounted.
Chamblee later received a call from the Wall Street Journal saying her husband may have been one of the injured. But when she called local hospitals, he was no where to be found.
As she waited in increasing agony and despair, one call from a random number brought the heart-shattering news.
‘After seven hours of waiting, I answer another strange number. Several of John’s co-workers can be heard on the line. There is wailing: painful, wounded wailing. One voice chokes out the words: “He’s dead.” The wailing gets louder. It is my wailing,’ Chamblee wrote.
Chamblee, pictured with McNamara, says she received a phone call where she could hear staffers at the paper wailing and a voice said ‘He’s dead’
She identified his body five days later but revealed she couldn’t give a proper goodbye
She added McNamara’s peers assured her ‘he didn’t suffer’ in death – but warned her to steer clear of the security footage from the shooting
Around 10pm that same evening the crisis center representatives arrived to her doorstep to bring her the harrowing news she already knew.
‘I get 90 minutes of sleep that night. I cancel work the next day. I cancel my evening work event. I forget to cancel my lunch meeting. I try to turn down a job transfer that was supposed to take place in July; I can’t possibly start now,’ she said.
The following day she attended a memorial march organized in Annapolis to rally against gun violence.
‘The Washington Post runs a front-page photo of a marching, weeping widow. It is me,’ she said.
In her grief Chamblee cancelled all plans she had lined up for the summer from teaching a graduate course to volunteering at her local theater and her Bethany Beach vacation.
‘My vacation is replaced with meetings: the crisis center, the grief counselors, the life insurance company,’ she said.
Five days after the shooting, John’s body was released and Chamblee identified it.
‘He is recognizable, even though the refrigeration has turned his nose black. I am permitted to see his face, but not his body, through the cocoon of the ice pack,’ she said.
The horrific shooting unfolded on June 28 at the Capitol Gazette headquarters in Annapolis, Maryland, officers pictured above
The five victims (from left to right) were writer John McNamara, special publications editor Wendi Winters, assistant editor Robert Hiaasen, editorial page editor Gerald Fischman, and sales assistant Rebecca Smith
‘I am not able to take his hand. They don’t tell me where the bullet entered or even how he died,’ she added.
With barely time to grieve, Chamblee became overwhelmed with memorial preparations.
‘The programs, the music, the pictures, the urn, the speakers, the properly shocked politicians who offer condolences, the officiant…I order death certificates and sleep for three hours that night,’ she wrote.
When the funeral day rolled around on July 10 she said her life had fallen into disarray from the stinking refrigerator and forlorn watered plants in her home to the mismatched underwear on her body.
A breakdown ensued when it came time to try on a black dress for the funeral day.
‘I have lost weight: I try on my black dress. It is too big. I try on my tight black dress. It is too big. I need to buy something new, and when the cashier asks what the new black dress is for, I cry. She abruptly gives me the employee discount,’ she wrote.
‘The hairstylist refuses to let me pay for the haircut. The manicurist looks at my chewed nails and peeled polish and says she will fix it so I can get another husband,’ she added.
Survivors and fellow coworkers of John reached out to Chamblee assuring her ‘he didn’t suffer’ in death.
‘But, they warn, never watch the security video,’ she said.
Five staff members died in the shooting spree led by gunman Jarrod W. Ramos, 38, who was arrested after opening fire. The paper reported on the shooting as it was happening live and continued to print an issue for the following day in honor of the lives lost.
The victims were McNamara, special publications editor Wendi Winters, assistant editor Robert Hiaasen, editorial page editor Gerald Fischman, and sales assistant Rebecca Smith.