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Commentary: Newspaper shooting revives memories

The recent deadly shooting at the Capital Gazette newspaper office in Annapolis, Md., brought back memories for a handful of current Brainerd Dispatch employees.

Although no one was injured and the shooter never entered the building, the Dispatch office was the target of a gunman in the early morning hours of Dec. 27, 1993. Two years later, a fired Dispatch employee, Brad M. Serani, was convicted of the shooting.

I will never forget that day. I was the Dispatch's assistant sports editor and was the first to arrive at work about 4:45 a.m.—about 15 minutes after Serani fired more than 35 rounds from an SKS semi-automatic rifle into our building.

We were printing the Dispatch in the afternoon at that time, so our building was usually empty until the morning shift arrived in the newsroom.

I entered the Dispatch through a side employee door and immediately noticed the cold temperature in our building. I walked to the front counter to drop off mail, and that's when I noticed the large front window blown out. I figured the below-zero temperatures may have shattered the glass. I called the Brainerd police to make sure no one had entered the building.

The police dispatcher told me to meet an officer at the front door in a few minutes. When he arrived, the officer walked into the building through the broken glass as we both made the realization the damage was caused by numerous bullet holes in dozens of windows around the front and east sides of the building.

That moment started a flurry of activity between police investigators and the workers putting up plywood over the broken windows to keep out the cold weather.

We also had water along the east wall of the building as a bullet struck a heat register. One of Serani's bullets severed our liquid, closed-loop heating system, effectively shutting down all heat in the building. We were in real danger of freezing up the entire building.

Unlike the Maryland shooting, we didn't know our shooter's identity for almost two years. And that led to a nervous feeling among employees, but former Brainerd police Chief Frank Ball did assure us "that it appeared the shooter didn't intend to shoot anyone" since he first walked around the building before shooting.

As time went on, the worst part was not knowing who shot up the building and why, and would they strike again? We had an armed guard in the building for more than 30 days, adding to employee stress.

Police also analyzed six months of past Dispatch editions to search for anyone with a possible grudge against the Dispatch because of our reporting.

It was almost two years later that the mystery was solved when Serani was arrested after he made terroristic threats to a mortgage company attempting to foreclose on his home. Police then matched him as a former Dispatch employee. Serani, who served time for the shooting, later died in 2006.

Unlike the Maryland shooting, the Dispatch news staff and coverage were not the target of the Dispatch shooting. But we understand the nature of our business can upset readers even as we strive for fair coverage. We cover the news, and people have varying opinions of most stories. There have been a handful of threatening visitors at our office over the years, and we continue to review security for our building.

We hope our readers will understand and appreciate the nature of our business. We cover the news whether it's viewed as negative or positive.

We did achieve the same goal as the Capital Gazette as we didn't miss publishing the news the day of the Dispatch shooting. Terry McCollough, who served as Dispatch publisher at the time of the shooting, emphasized the importance of meeting the press schedule and standing behind our commitment to cover the news. We refuse to silence the presses despite any threats.

And we will never forget that day in Brainerd. McCollough left the bullet damage on a metal strip between windows inside the publisher's office unrepaired as a constant reminder to stay alert to any possible future threats.

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