Four journalists and a sales assistant were murdered in a shooting Thursday afternoon at the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland.
One of the victims was Robert “Rob” Hiaasen, a UF alumnus and younger brother of Miami Herald columnist, former Alligator writer and author Carl Hiaasen.
Hiaasen celebrated his 33rd wedding anniversary with his wife, Maria Hiaasen, last week. The day of the shooting was also her birthday.
“(Hiaasen) was someone who really had a zeal for finding the humanity in all the chaos and the fast pace of this world,” said David Ovalle, a Miami Herald staff writer and friend of the Hiaasen family. “It’s a pretty stunning lost.”
Hiaasen, 59, grew up in Fort Lauderdale. He originally worked in radio before moving to print as a staff reporter at the Palm Beach Post in the 1990s, Ovalle said.
Hiaasen worked at The Baltimore Sun for the next 15 years after leaving the Palm Beach Post, eventually ending up at the Capital Gazette in 2010.
Jon Morgan, former editor of The Baltimore Sun, described Hiaasen as enthusiastic, having a terrific sense of humor and always looking out for others.
“His attitude was always very positive even in the dark days of buyouts and downsizing, he just loved what he was doing,” Morgan said. “You don’t meet many people like than in the course of your life.”
Hiaasen loved the craft of writing and was passionate about finding overlooked stories for human interest, Morgan and Ovalle said.
They both agreed one of their favorite pieces Hiaasen wrote involved his curiosity of a Korean couple he saw on his way to lunch. They were collecting nuts from a fallen tree.
While it’s an observation most people would ignore, Hiaasen decided to research the nut and track the couple down.
He ended up spinning it into a fun, quirky story about the the delicacy known as the “Ginko” nut within Asian culture.
“We all go to lunch and we don’t even notice what’s going on around us,” Ovalle said. “(Rob) just had a real eye for everything going on around him.”
Morgan said his fondest memory of working with Hiaasen involved his brother, Carl Hiaasen.
He noted how Carl Hiaasen was a highly prolific author and how he always used to tease Robert about how his brother was more famous than he was.
Morgan said he went up to Carl Hiaasen upon first meeting him and immediately asked him, “What’s it like having Robert Hiaasen as a brother?”
“Carl just looked at me blankly, but Rob immediately got the joke and doubled over in laughter,” Morgan said. “That’s the kind of self-defacing joke you could pull on Rob.”
Outside of journalism, Ovalle said Hiaasen loved being outdoors as well as spending time with his wife and two children.
He also studied the art of writing outside of the newsroom, working as a journalism lecturer at the University of Maryland.
Ovalle said Hiaasen understood the lethal consequences journalism has had over time, writing a lengthy feature story in 2006 about a memorial that honored journalists killed on the job.
Ovalle said Hiaasen’s family is in disbelief from the events, finding the situation surreal and incomprehensible.
Ovalle and Morgan said that Hiaasen will leave behind a fond memory of positivity and inspiration within journalism.
“I suspect there will be journalists whose lives he touched and careers he touched going forward, and that’s a proud legacy we can all be so lucky (to know).” Morgan said.