Tension over the budget impasse abruptly turned to chaos on Capitol Hill Thursday, as a woman was shot and killed by police after a fierce car chase, with her 1-year-old child as a passenger.
But many questions were unanswered late Thursday, hours after the U.S. House gave Capitol Police and other law enforcement officers a standing ovation in the chamber when the episode was finished.
Multiple news accounts named the woman as Miriam Carey, a 34-year-old dental hygienist from Stamford, Conn., who reportedly worked in Connecticut prisons. Why the woman hit a White House security barrier with her car and fled afterward, precipitating the chase from the White House to the Capitol area, remained unclear. She did not have a gun, a law enforcement officer confirmed, and the exact details of her shooting were not being released.
One Capitol Police officer and one Secret Service officer were injured in the incident. The officer was hurt after his car hit a barricade in the pursuit, and the Secret Service officer was injured when struck by the woman’s car, police said. The child, a girl, was brought into the Capitol before being transferred to a hospital, an is in good condition in protective custody, authorities said during a Thursday night press conference.
D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier declined to comment on details of how and why the woman was shot. Lanier said the event was believed to be an isolated incident, but that it was no “accident.” She and U.S. Capitol Police Chief Kim Dine declined to elaborate.
The chase began when the woman acted suspiciously and ignored law enforcement’s instructions, according to Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terry Gainer. She struck a White House security barrier and was chased by Secret Service agents until the pursuit ended on Connecticut Avenue just below Capitol Hill.
There were two episodes of gunfire along the path of the 12-block chase, both involving multiple shots, a law enforcement official said. All the shots were fired by police trying to stop her, the official said. “A car can be a deadly weapon,” one officer remarked.
At least one lawmaker said more details of the shooting should be released. “As a lawyer, if I were representing her family, [I would] call for a complete investigation,” said Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla. He added that he can only hope “the baby doesn’t have memories of this. I sure do hope that. No disrespect to the police involved. But boy, I tell you—I live in South Florida and those chases cause immeasurable damage.”
Many lawmakers were inside the House chamber when word of the shooting outside prompted a lockdown of the building. Uncertainty prevailed about what was going on; some lawmakers on the floor first learned of the shots from Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who went member-to-member to let them know. House and Senate office buildings also went into a lock-down.
Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va., had been on the balcony of the Speaker’s Lobby, talking with Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., about the government shutdown when he heard a commotion coming from the direction of the Rayburn building.
“It sounded like fireworks, a big fireworks display, and then we realized, that’s not fireworks,” Connolly said. “It sounded more like the first volley of a 21-gun salute — seven-seven-seven — because it was very close together, a loud burst.”
Connolly saw “armed police with their weapons drawn” running toward Rayburn, while people ran in the other direction toward the Capitol.
The Capitol Complex was in lockdown only briefly, and was reopened quickly. An armored vehicle sat on the plaza, but tourists with bikes were walking about as well. A Capitol Police car that had obviously been involved with a crash was at the corner of Constitution and First Streets NW and cordoned off.
The Capitol Police officer was taken by helicopter to the hospital, but “does not appear to have life-threatening injuries,” Gainer said.
“Thankfully,” Gainer also said, “it does not appear to be terrorism-related.”