WASHINGTON – At 2:19 p.m. Thursday, Rep. Scott Tipton was sitting on a mahogany leather chair on the House of Representatives floor, thumbing his smart phone and hearing a speech from Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.). Twenty minutes earlier, the Cortez Republican had voted for an appropriations bill to fund the National Guard and military reserves. Now he could relax for a few minutes before the next scheduled vote.
At the same time, Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-Va.) stood with Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Penn.) on a balcony that overlooks the Capitol’s west side. The two lawmakers were discussing negotiations over the federal shutdown.
Then they heard a loud rat-a-tat-tat. “We thought it was fireworks. Then we thought, ‘It’s not fireworks. Of course it’s not fireworks.’ We saw armed guard running with their guns drawn,” Connolly told reporters.
Inside the House chamber, U.S. Capitol police sealed the floor initially. “Lock down! We need to lock down!” one uniformed police shouted to uniformed and plainclothes police officers in a room that lawmakers use to read newspapers and talk with reporters.
Up in the House press gallery, the voice of a female announcer crackled on a Motorola loudspeaker. “There is a report of a gun fire on Capitol Hill. If you are in an office building, seek shelter. If you’re outside the building, seek cover to a building,” she said.
The shots came from a gun of a female suspect, according to multiple news reports. The woman had a child in a car with her and had taken D.C. police on a chase for a mile-and-a-half on Capitol Hill and rammed into a post near the White House on 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue N.W. before hitting a stanchion on Second Street and Constitution Avenue N.E. At least one U.S. Capitol police officer and a Secret Service officer were reported injured.
The U.S. Capitol was sealed. With uniformed police officers guarding the doors, nobody inside the House or Senate was allowed outside the complex.
“Shots fired outside my DC office building,” Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) tweeted, referring to his office in the Hart Building, next to the incident. “My staff and I are safe and sheltering in place.”
Less than an hour later, the U.S. Capitol police allowed those inside the complex to enter and exit.
Members of Congress have been through violent events like Thursday’s before. In July 1998, Russell Eugene Weston, Jr. fired shots outside the House and killed two U.S. Capitol police officers, Jacob Chestnut and Special Agent John Gibson. In January 2011, Jared Lee Loughner shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and others at a congressional meet-and-greet event. Both men had forms of untreated severe mental illness.
In a statement, Tipton expressed his appreciation for the work of the Capitol Police; the suspect was reported killed.
“My staff and I are safe and accounted for,” Tipton said. “We’re praying those who may have been hurt and incredibly grateful to the Capitol police.”