Already in a state of high tension over the government shutdown, Capitol Hill was briefly placed on lockdown this afternoon after a car chase ended with an exchange of shots near the Capitol building in which a driver refused to stop was killed, and a Capitol Police officer injured.
The incident started close to the U.S. Treasury building, just a block from the White House, when a woman traveling with a child in a black Infiniti coupe was stopped by police. Instead she drove off at high speed towards Capitol Hill, hitting a security barrier and going through red lights along the way. Police were authorized to use force to stop the vehicle and shots were fired. The chase ended when the car stopped. Police said the case was an isolated incident, unrelated to terrorism.
“I’m pretty confident this was not an accident,” said Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier. Separately, law enforcement sources told The Washington Post that the woman in the car was unarmed.
“The car was trying to get away. But it was going over the median and over the curb,” said eyewitness Matthew Coursen, who was in a taxi when the car sped past. “The car got boxed in and that’s when I saw an officer of some kind draw his weapon and fire shots into the car.”
A Secret Service agent and a Capitol Police officer were injured, but were said to be in good condition and expected to recover. Officials said the woman was killed, but that a young child in the car was uninjured.
U.S. Capitol Police on the plaza around the Capitol said they were working without pay as the result of the shutdown.
During the emergency, Congressmen, Senators and their staff inside the Capitol and nearby office buildings were ordered to take “shelter in place.” Others were moved to safe areas. But the security alert was lifted in less than an hour, and tourists were allowed back onto the Capitol grounds.
The situation further rattled nerves in an anxious city, just three weeks after 12 people were killed and three injured in a shooting spree by a government technology contractor at the US Navy Yard, around a mile and a half away.
Though highly unusual, the incident was not unprecedented. In 1998, a gunman burst through a security checkpoint and killed two Capitol Police officers in an exchange of fire that sent tourists and other bystanders diving for cover. The suspect, Russell Eugene Weston, was not charged with a crime because of apparent mental instability.