A woman was killed and two federal law enforcement officers were injured Thursday after a wild car chase through the streets of downtown Washington left lawmakers, tourists and congressional staff briefly trapped inside a tense, locked-down Capitol.
Police would not identify the suspect. They said that around 2 p.m., a woman drove a Black Infiniti sedan up to a White House outer perimeter barricade. Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said “multiple shots were fired,” though not at the White House, and the car sped east on Pennsylvania Avenue, with a clear view of the Capitol. The woman was apparently unarmed.
She struck a Secret Service officer with her car, and the chase was on. The suspect reportedly drove at a high rate of speed toward the Capitol, about a mile and a half away. As she approached Capitol Hill, more shots were fired.
Washington Police Chief Cathy Lanier said it was still unclear who fired the shots and how many were fired.
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The car “crashed into one of our barricades,” said U.S. Capitol Police Chief Kim Dine. “One of our officers was struck in his scout car.” Dine said the officer was a 23-year police veteran. He would not describe the injuries.
Inside the car was a child, apparently about a year old. An officer rescued the child and arranged for medical care. The child’s condition was not known.
Dine largely dismissed the idea that the suspect had any political motive.
“We have no information that this is related to terrorism or is anything other than an isolated incident,” he said.
The Hartford Courant, citing a source with knowledge of the investigation, identified the driver of the car as Miriam Carey, 34, a dental hygienist from Stamford, Conn. Stamford Mayor Michael Pavia told the Associated Press that the FBI was searching a Stamford address in connection with the investigation.
The incident mobilized a small army of law enforcement officials across official Washington. The U.S. Capitol Police, the Secret Service and the Washington police department were all involved
It was an unexpected jolt to an otherwise beautiful October afternoon in the nation’s capital, albeit one where thousands of federal workers had been temporarily furloughed, tourists searched for sites that were still open and lawmakers continued to trade barbs over who was responsible for the government shutdown.
Suddenly, tourists at the White House and the Capitol were scurrying for shelter. Along Pennsylvania Avenue near the executive mansion, the Secret Service began putting up metal barricades and herding passersby off the sidewalk and into nearby Lafayette Park.
At the other end of the National Mall was an anxious scene unfolding on Capitol Hill, just blocks from the Navy Yard, where memories remained fresh of a gunman who killed a dozen people on Sept. 16.
People who appeared to be dressed as tourists were running away from the Hart Senate Office Building area toward the Capitol. Police officers holding rifles pointed to the ground dashed from the Capitol toward the scene of the incident.
Inside the Capitol, a loudspeaker message blared warnings of shots fired in the area and ordering that workers lock office doors and stay away from windows. No one was allowed to enter or exit the building.
Capitol police sent a terse email: “SHELTER IN PLACE.”
“Gunshots have been reported on Capitol Hill requiring staff in all Senate Office Buildings to immediately shelter in place. Close, lock and stay away from external doors and windows. Take annunciators, emergency supply kits and escape hoods; and move to your office’s assigned shelter in place location or the innermost part of the office away from external doors or windows,” the email said.
“If you are not near your office, go to the office nearest to you and shelter with that office and then check in with your (emergency coordinator) No one will be permitted to enter or exit the building until directed by USCP (U.S. Capitol Police). Staff is advised to monitor the situation. Further information will be provided as it becomes available.”
The Senate was engaged in routine business. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was speaking about Syria. Realizing what was occurring, Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., asked for a recess. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., had just come back from the Democratic Caucus lunch, hoping to brief her staff on the government shutdown, now entering its third day.
“We were just sitting down and starting to talk and heard these incredibly loud noises outside the window,” Boxer said. “And we looked at each other because we’ve never heard sounds like this just in rapid succession: boom, boom, boom, boom. About five or six. And then we knew something terrible had happened.”
The House of Representatives was debating funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs funding at the time of the lockdown order. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was on the House floor and remained in the chamber. House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio was in the Republican cloakroom, a room off the chamber where lawmakers can hold private talks, and stayed there until the incident was over.
Rep. Juan Vargas, D-Calif., said he was walking on 1st Street toward the Capitol when he heard a “pop, pop.” A police officer then ran up to him.
“He told me to take the pin off,” said Vargas, referring to his U.S. Congress lapel pin, “and I said, ‘What’s going on?’ and he said, ‘Two officers shot, two officers down. Take your pin off, you could be a target.’”
Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, said he feared that the gunshots might have been related to the shutdown.
“This might be something related to what’s going on with the government, but the reports now lead me to believe otherwise,” Farenthold told CNN. “It’s unfortunate that this happened. Maybe some good will come out of it.”
Two lobbyists were conducting business on the House side of the Capitol.
“We were . . . in a member’s office in a meeting,” said Cashion Drolet, who represents the South Carolina Realtors Association.
He said they “were kind of confused” when the alarm sounded across the Capitol complex, but the staff of the South Carolina member they were visiting told them to stay put.
“They were very professional, pulled people out of the hallway and locked the doors," said Drolet, of Charleston. She declined to give the name of the lawmaker.
Her companion, Ken Wingert, a lobbyist for the National Association of Realtors, said, “First time in a lockdown . . . but the staff knew what to do.”
They said they weren’t frightened.
“No,” said Drolet, “we locked the door,” adding, “We were with the member.”
David Loewenberg, a Department of Education intern, lives in an apartment building near where the crash occurred. Home because the government shutdown, he heard seven or eight gunshots, came outside and headed toward the Capitol.
Loewenberg could barely make out a black car that looked like it had crashed and saw a police officer hugging a child and taking it away from the scene. Then someone shouted at him to go back indoors.
Inside the Capitol, Tony and Bridget Rossa, from Waukesha, Wis., were visiting for a tour and listening to McCain. Suddenly, visitors from the House were ushered into the Senate tourist gallery, the designated holding area.
“We didn’t know what was going on, and they told us there was an incident outside the Capitol,” said Bridget Rossa. “They couldn’t tell us anything more.”
The lockdown order lasted about 45 minutes, and almost instantly, the Capitol resumed its usual look and usual business. The House went back into session at 3:30 p.m. and voted on the veterans bill. The lawmakers also gave the Capitol Police a standing ovation.
Sarah Sexton, Kendall Helblig, Maria Recio, Lesley Clark, Michael Doyle, Mark Seibel, Julie Moos and Anita Kumar of the Washington Bureau contributed.