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‘The Hardest Is Over.’ Capital Gazette Shooting Survivors Share Relief After Gunman Pleads Guilty

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Selene San Felice survived the 2018 Capital Gazette shooting and was preparing herself to testify that it was Jarrod Ramos who opened fire on her newsroom and killed five of her colleagues.

Then on Monday, a week before the trial was slated to start, came the news that Ramos was pleading guilty and admitting to the shooting at the Annapolis, Md. newspaper group. “It’s a huge relief to be able to just say that he admitted to it,” says San Felice, a features writer, “and not have to dance around it anymore.”

Ramos had originally pleaded not criminally responsible—Maryland’s insanity defense—meaning there would have to be a two-part trial. The first phase would determine whether the 39-year-old committed the horrific mass shooting. The second would focus on his mental state and would determine whether he could be held criminally responsible.

Ramos has now admitted to all 23 charges against him and prosecutors can skip the first part of the trial— sparing survivors and family members of the victims what was sure to a gruesome presentation of the evidence from the scene of the shooting. Ramos, who had a longstanding grudge against the newspaper after it reported on a criminal case against him, previously admitted to police that he entered the offices of the Capital Gazette on June 28, 2018 and opened fire.

San Felice acknowledges that she may still have to testify in the trial on Ramos’s mental state. But she says, “for the most part, the hardest is over.”

The five victims killed in the shooting were: Gerald Fischman, the editorial page editor; Rob Hiaasen, deputy editor; John McNamara, a sports writer and editor; Rebecca Smith, a sales assistant; Wendi Winters, a features writer.

The attack on the newspaper shocked the nation and led to a public outpouring of support for local news. TIME featured Capital Gazette staffers as part of the 2018 Person of the Year cover: The Guardians.

“Nothing can bring back my husband, or any of the other wonderful people who were lost that day,” Andrea Chamblee, McNamara’s widow, says. “So all of it is bitter-sweet.”

Rick Hutzell, the editor of Capital Gazette, tells TIME that Ramos’ guilty plea is important for family and friends because they won’t have to sit through the first stage of trial.

“Obviously there was never any doubt that this is the man who barged into our office and killed five of our colleagues and friends,” Hutzell says.

Rachael Pacella, an environment reporter who survived the shooting, tells TIME that she was also relieved by Ramos’s guilty plea: “It basically eliminated a week of stress and worrying ahead of the first phase of the trial… I feel a lot lighter today than I did yesterday.”

She adds: “Like always, this is another chance to remember the people who were killed. It’s a time to reflect on their lives and their contributions.”

San Felice attended court hearing on Monday and described the day as “grueling” and “hard.”

“Sitting in there yesterday reminded me that being alive is… I call it an act of defiance,” San Felice says. “I’ve gotten so low honestly at this point that being alive doesn’t sound so great at times. But I have to live, I have to live as happily and as loudly with as many articles as I can.”

“I want to live,” she continues, “and I want to live as a reporter and I want to keep recreating that act of defiance every single day in my life.”

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Write to Madeleine Carlisle at madeleine.carlisle@time.com