WASHINGTON – Over the past few days, thousands of tourists from around the world descended on the nation’s capital for a long weekend of beautiful weather and sightseeing. With the cherry blossom trees in peak bloom, this Easter weekend was likely one of the city’s busiest.
But panic broke out on Monday afternoon with a report of gunshots at the Capitol and fleeing visitors. At 2:39 p.m. a man entering the Capitol Visitor Center pulled out a weapon and was shot by police. A woman standing nearby suffered minor injuries. No officers were injured.
U.S. Capitol Police Chief Matthew Verderosa said the encounter lasted only a few minutes. But visitors were kept inside the Capitol for an hour before being evacuated.
“Based on the initial investigation, we believe that this is the act of a single person that has frequented the Capitol grounds before, and there is no reason to believe that this is anything more than a criminal act,” Verderosa said.
Verderosa, who has served as chief for less than a month, said police had dealt with the man before. Verderosa did not give the man’s name, but said he had been taken to a hospital to undergo surgery.
A weapon that police did not describe was recovered. Police also found the man’s car nearby and planned to search it after obtaining a warrant.
For those inside the visitor center, everything seemed to happen quickly.
Gretchen Westbrock was visiting the Capitol from Asheville, N.C., with her family. They were sitting in the visitor center theater when shots were fired.
“We heard [the police] yelling ‘stop, stop,’ and saw the police running by as fast as they could,” she said. “And then we heard ‘get down’ and screaming and everyone just hit the floor.”
Cheri Davis from Chattanooga, Tenn., was also with her family on vacation.
“It was very quick,” she said. “We saw Capitol police running with their guns out, so we ducked. Then they hurried us into rooms and shut the door.
By the time Verderosa held a press conference at about 4:45 p.m., the Capitol had reopened except for the visitor center. Police were still investigating that part of the building.
The House and Senate are both in recess this week, so fewer employees were in the Capitol and nearby office buildings.
The Capitol Visitor Center, long planned, was built after a gunman entered the Capitol in 1998. He shot and killed two police officers. Now visitors enter the center nearly a block from the historic building. They go through screening similar to that in airports. That’s where the man was stopped.
“The security process worked the way it was supposed to,” Verderosa said.
The White House was briefly put on lock down as a precautionary measure.
Verderosa said that the Capitol would be back to regular business hours on Tuesday.
Reach reporter Luke Torrance at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-408-1494. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.
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