WASHINGTON – At least one person was shot by police Monday afternoon at the Capitol Visitor Center at the U.S. Capitol Complex, according to two District of Columbia police officials. He was taken to MedStar Washington Hospital Center.
The report of gunfire in a city on heightened alert because of terror attacks in Europe sent dozens of emergency vehicles to the Capitol building and forced staff and visitors into lockdown. Road barricades went up and police officers with automatic rifles were stationed on street corners.
The visitor’s center is an underground complex located east of the Capitol building. All visitors are screened through metal detectors as they enter the facility
Few details were immediately available. In a tweet sent about 3:15 p.m., District of Columbia police reported that there was an “isolated incident at the U.S. Capitol Center,”
“There is no active threat to the public,” police said in the tweet.
Trevor Kussman, a textile executive visiting with his wife and children from Chicago, said his family was inside the visitor’s center watching an educational movie when an announcement was made about “shots being fired.” The movie continued to play, but some people got up to leave.
Other families inside the theater said it was strangely calm as they heard the intercom blare a pre-recorded announcement about an “active shooter.”
Outside the Capitol, Diane Bilo from Ohio was waiting for her husband and two of their children to emerge. She said they’d been in the cafeteria.
“My husband said he heard a shot followed by a full clip,” Bilo said.
Amy and Kai Gudmestad of Minneapolis were at the visitor’s center with their two children for a tour when, all of a sudden, officers started yelling at them to get down.
“There was just yelling and they told us to get down, and then the officers got us into the theater,” Amy Gudmestad said. The family said they did not hear gunshots.
“It happened very fast,” said Eli, her 10-year-old son, who described the experience as “more confusing” than the fire and tornado drills he’s been through at school.
“He was calm, I was scared,” added his 8-year-old sister Lucy.
Eventually, officials told them there had been a shooting - though Kai Gudmestad said he had already figured that much out from Twitter.
The initial report of shots fired prompted lockdowns at the Capitol buildings and the White House. An email went out to Hill staffers warning them to keep sheltering in place but said, “No further gunshots being reported.”
The email continued: “One suspect is in custody, no further suspects appear to be at large, however the U.S. Capitol Police are continuing to investigate.”
Both the House and Senate are in recess this week for the Easter holiday so very few, if any lawmakers, were present on the Capitol campus. But staffers are at work throughout the complex, and spring is an extremely popular season for tourists to visit.
Senate judiciary committee chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said that he was informed of the shooting ahead of a town hall meeting in Ocheyedan, IA, and was assured that his staff was safe. He said the shooting may have occurred outside the walls of the Capitol but only “about one hundred feet from where people were murdered” in a shooting in 1998.
He said the incident does not cause him to worry more about safety on Capitol grounds. “You have to think that the police are going to do everything they can to keep you safe,” Grassley said. “Nobody can guarantee you a risk free society.”
People who were near the Capitol building were led elsewhere. At G and 2nd Street Northeast, group of 80 high school students from California rested at a park after being moved from the Library of Congress. Tour group leaders said no reason was given, and there was no confusion or commotion, but that students learned the reason for the forced move within 30 seconds by checking news on their cell phones.
There have been several previous incidents of gunfire on the Capitol grounds. In April, a man shot himself to death on the Capitol building’s west front in an apparent suicide.
In October 2013, a Connecticut woman was shot and killed by law enforcement officers after trying to drive through a White House security checkpoint then racing down Pennsylvania Avenue and driving her car into a security barricade on the northeast side of the Capitol grounds.
In 1998, a mentally ill gunman opened fire at an entrance to the Capitol building, killing two Capitol Police officers. Those officers, Jacob Chestnut and John Gibson, are the only officers of that force to have died in the line of duty.
The White House also was placed on lockdown.
“The line was moving along and then it just stopped,” said Mary Kusler, a top lobbyist for the National Education Association, who had already passed through the security check at the White House with her 4-year-old son and was heading toward the gates that open onto the South Lawn.
She said everything ground to a halt.
“I’ve done this so many times before and I was thinking, OK, why is this line not moving? We were just standing there and everybody was feeling a little bit of anxiety, you could tell, because no one knew what was going on,” Kusler said. “But the volunteers handled it really well. They said, hey, there’s a bit of a thing going on and everything’s going to be fine, so just relax. We were waiting for 30-40 minutes and you kind of saw the Secret Service move about. And then they opened it up again.”
Shortly after the reported shooting, Secret Service director Joseph Clancy stopped by the 15th street entrance to the White House grounds to survey the security process and lines of families cueing for the Easter Egg Roll.
Clancy told The Post that he was very pleased with the Secret Service agents assisting in guiding visitors to the grounds and for providing a smooth and seamless security experience for families in light of the incident at the Capitol.
“It’s been a good day,” he said.