I’m not a spiritual person. There is no heaven above, no hell below. We make our own right here, right now.

I’ve come to think of life on Albert Einstein’s terms, or at least those he expressed in his theory of energy conservation. Energy is neither created nor destroyed. It forever changes from one form to another and another.

Lines carved by the wind on the sand are no different than what followed the violence that ended five lives on June 28, six years ago — energy moving from one form to another.

At first, it was easy to see the transformation.

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Friendship, family love and dedication to journalism became grief, a community embrace and a moment of national attention for small-town journalists like me. Like Rob Hiaasen. Like Wendi Winters, Gerald Fischman and John McNamara. Even poor Rebecca Smith, whose sales assistant job put her at the front door that fatal day.

So much else has happened since then. COVID. Jan. 6. Inflation. Who won the presidential debate? Six years on, most of you don’t think about June 28, 2018, every day.

I do.

I try to keep it out of my daily conversations, but sometimes it’s just there. Coming out of my mouth. I talk about Rob as if I spoke with him yesterday, or wonder what Gerald would make of some news story, or retell the story of Wendi’s courage on the day she died.

ANNAPOLIS - A women holds an edition of the Capital Gazette newspaper during a candlelight vigil to honor the five people who were shot and killed on June 29, 2018 in Annapolis.
The June 29, 2018, edition of the Capital reported the death of five of its staff members. It was part of a candlelight vigil that night in Annapolis. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

I try to look for signs that I’m being tiresome, any sense of “Oh no, not this again.” But people are generally kind. Sometimes, they bring it up first, usually when they connect my name with the mass shooting in my old newsroom in Annapolis.

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A gunman, hatefully obsessed by something written about him seven years earlier, barricaded the back door to the Capital Gazette offices at 888 Bestgate Road, shot his way through the front entrance, and then stalked and murdered Rob, Gerald, Wendi, John and Rebecca.

His target was The Capital, the daily newspaper in Maryland’s state capital. The columnist who wrote about him was long gone, and so were the company executives he harassed for years. I doubt he knew that Rob edited the piece.

If he didn’t obliterate the paper with his shotgun, he wrote in letters explaining his murders, he hoped lawsuits from the families of the dead and anyone who survived would.

I was at the top of his death list. But in an accident of the calendar, I took a vacation and Rob agreed to stay.

My wife and I bought a stay at a beachside condo in the town where I grew up, part of a charity fundraiser. The last week in June was the only time we could get, and Rob said he preferred the warmer ocean waters of July anyway.

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How strange that Ocean City, a place I once desperately wanted to escape, saved my life. How strange that Rob died on his wife’s birthday.

Six years later, I’m still looking for meaning. I still want to see a pattern in the ripples carved in sand.

Sometimes I find it in what others have to say. Tamela Baker, a writer and editor at the Herald-Mail in Hagerstown, meditated in a column last week on what the murders in Annapolis say about threats to a free press.

The Committee to Protect Journalists wants to interview me again. There’s a documentary in the works about fallen journalists around the country, including Wendi — who charged the gunman with plastic trash bins and audacity as her only weapons.

Other times, I look away.

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A former sheriff made a video about the shooting. A former publisher of The Capital is coming out with a book. Both are wrongly focused on the violence, not how five lives were transformed by it into something else.

You can find the energy created that day in the ways journalism has changed.

We take threats and risks more seriously, whether covering wars in Gaza or Ukraine, petty corruption in Las Vegas, or an armed vigil in Severn.

Journalism students at the University of Maryland discuss good security measures, particularly in the reporting and news bureaus that send them into the world to find news. You can find the energy created six years ago in a classroom dedicated to my friends and the scholarships awarded in the name of Rob, Gerald and John.

It lives on in the hard decisions by four of those who escaped the gunman in Annapolis to stay in our profession: reporters Selene San Felice and Phil Davis, photographer Paul Gillespie and sales associate Janel Cooley. It’s in the continuing work of those who were not in the office that day, journalists Danielle Ohl, Bill Wagner and Jeff Bill, and sales director Marty Padden.

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The energy flows in the lives of those who left and those who came after, in the widows, children and grandchildren of those who died. It’s in moving forward with lives interrupted but not ended.

At The Banner, you can find it in the stories and photos by Pamela Wood, Tim Prudente and Ulysses Muñoz. Each of them worked alongside Rob, Gerald, Wendi and John. It’s the same at The Baltimore Sun for Trif Alatzas, Jay Judge and Alex Mann. It’s in my columns.

The staff of The Capital, along with volunteer reporters and editors from The Sun, work on July 11, 2018 in the University of Maryland's student news service office in Annapolis.
The staff of the Capital, along with volunteer reporters and editors from The Sun, work on July 11, 2018, in the University of Maryland’s student news service office in Annapolis. (Rick Hutzell)

It resonates in volunteers raising funds to help a family shattered last year by a second mass shooting in Annapolis, which left three dead last year. You’ll find it in new state and local laws that treat gun violence as a public health crisis. It will be present on Sunday, at a community resources fair intended to give people the tools to resist turning to gun violence as a solution — and to survive it when others do.

It’s in the lives of those who were touched by my friends’ work, and those who rallied to The Capital after their deaths. It is in Washington, where a foundation inspired by its story is raising millions to build a Fallen Journalists Memorial.

Friday morning, the energy that was my friends will rest for a time in the five granite columns that represent their lives, partially enclosed within the small semicircle of brick that forms the Guardians of the First Amendment Memorial in downtown Annapolis.

The Sun, which bought The Capital and its sister papers in 2014, will host a brief wreath-laying ceremony. I’ll be there, even though I’m on the opposite side of what some call a newspaper war. I guess it’s true.

The gunman who killed my friends didn’t cause The Sun to merge The Capital with its weekly sister, the Maryland Gazette, this month into a publication called Capital Gazette. That was the work of other winds, the economic ones carving into American journalism. It most likely was inevitable.

June 28, though, means more than just one newspaper or just those who knew the people who died.

I invited Kimi Yoshino, editor in chief of The Banner, to join my wife and me. I want her to understand the importance of Rob, Gerald, Wendi, John and Rebecca to Annapolis, to journalism and to America.

She’s invited the staff here to observe a moment of silence at 2:33 p.m., the moment a man with a gun transformed my friends into something different. I hope, wherever you are, you’ll join us.

And after we pause, their energy will change again into something else. Something more than violence. Something worth sharing.