Series of EmergencyNet News Real-Time Reports on Shooting At the U.S. Capitol Building - 24 July 98

EmergencyNet News *FLASH*
Preliminary REPORT
07/24/98 - 14:55CDT

Cap-bldg.gif (11892 bytes)Shooting at U.S. Capitol
By C. L. Staten

Washington, DC (EmergencyNet News) -- Preliminary reports are coming from law enforcement sources of a multiple shooting at the U.S. Capitol building. At least one police officer has been injured and events there are dynamic and changing as this report is issued. Numerous fire/police/EMS units have been dispatched and special units being put on alert.

EmergencyNet News is gathering additional details and will provide updates as circumstances warrant.


EmergencyNet NEWS Service Friday, July 24, 1998 16:15EDT

By EmergencyNet News Team

WASHINGTON (EmergencyNet News) - Reports of a shooting at the U.S. Capitol Building have come in at the ERRI Watch Center. Details are still sketchy, but what is known is that a man fired at least five shots near an entrance to the building. Two police officers have reportedly been badly wounded. There is also a report of a woman being shot.

Unconfirmed reports say that the shooting may have occurred near the office of House Minority leader Richard Gephardt. The shooting happened at about 15:45EDT and ambulances are still on the scene. Two of the victims have been airlifted to a hospital.

A report has now been received that the gunman has been wounded by officers. The situation, at this moment, is very fluid. ERRI is closely monitoring the situation.

Excerpted from: ERRI EMERGENCY SERVICES REPORT-EmergencyNet NEWS Service Saturday, July 25, 1998 Vol. 2 - 206


WASHINGTON, DC (EmergencyNet News) - The U.S. Capitol's flags were flying at half-staff in mourning on Saturday in honor of the two police officers killed by a gunman on a shooting rampage on Friday. A tourist was also wounded when the gunman burst into the building. She was in serious condition at George Washington University Hospital with facial and shoulder wounds. The suspect, identified as Russell E. Weston Jr., of Montana, was being held under heavy guard at a hospital after surgery for gunshot wounds. He had been investigated by the U.S. Secret Service two years ago "as a sort of a low-level threat" to POTUS.




From the ERRI Watch Center

WASHINGTON (EmergencyNet News) - Investigators are still attempting to explain how and why a lone gunman opened fire in the crowded U.S. Capitol on Friday, killing two police officers and wounding a tourist. The accused gunman has been identified as Russell Weston, age 41. Weston shot his way past Capitol security on Friday afternoon and entered a private area housing the offices of the Republican leadership in Congress.

At the sound of gunfire, pandemonium broke out as tourists fled for cover and police rushed to the scene. Weston exchanged gunshots with the officers and was wounded in the legs and abdomen. He underwent four hours of surgery on Friday evening and was reported to be in stable condition.

In a late-night briefing on Friday, Capitol Police spokesman Sergeant Dan Nichols said Weston was being held with criminal charges pending. Weston will likely be charged with murder of a federal officer, a capital offense for which he could be executed.

Weston's motives are still a mystery. Weston was described in media reports as a mentally ill loner who survived on government assistance and drifted between Illinois and Montana. One law enforcement official said Weston was known to federal security intelligence agencies and was considered a "low- level threat" to POTUS by the U.S. Secret Service.

When asked about Weston's mental health, another law enforcement official said, "He's the only one who knows. Apparently, he's a nut."

The Miami Herald in a telephone call to Weston's family home in Valmeyer, Illinois, which is located near St. Louis, reported that Weston was last seen at home on Thursday after arguing with his father. The newspaper also quoted a woman who identified herself as Weston's grandmother as saying "he's a schizophrenic, and he gets it in his head he's something big."

Police said they were examining a small Illinois-registered pick-up truck believed to have been driven by the suspect which was parked on the south side of the Capitol building.

Angela Dickerson, 24, who was visiting the Capitol, was hit by stray bullets in the face and shoulder and hospital sources said she remains in serious condition.

The dead officers were identified as Jacob "J.J." Chestnut, an 18-year veteran with the force, and John Gibson, who had also served for 18 years and was in the private security detail of House Republican Whip Tom DeLay of Texas.

Witnesses said panic broke out after the gunman stormed through the Document Door entrance usually reserved for lawmakers and their staff at 1540 EDT. The gunman entered the building but walked around the metal detector just inside the entrance. According to several sources, Chestnut asked him to go back through the detector but was shot in the chest with a .38-caliber handgun. Witnesses said he turned down a short corridor and pushed through a door marked "Do Not Enter" which leads to a group of offices used by senior Republican representatives.

Once inside he was confronted by Gibson who had already shouted to nearby staffers to take cover. Shots were fired over the head of a 20-year-old DeLay staffer. The two men traded shots and both fell wounded. Another officer who ran to the scene straddled the bleeding gunman, pointing his weapon at him.

Within minutes, Tennessee Senator Bill Frist, a heart surgeon who has emergency medical equipment in his office, raced to the scene and helped treat two people. One of them, the suspect. He rode to the hospital in an ambulance with Weston. Frist was on the scene before District of Columbia EMS. A U.S. Park Police helicopter landed and airlifted one of the wounded officers to a hospital.

A security camera was operating in the vicinity of the shooting and presumably captured the episode on tape.

District of Columbia police were leading the investigation. Also taking part were the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Secret Service, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the U.S. Capitol Police and the U.S. Attorney's office.

The shootout highlighted the complex security arrangements put in place to safeguard the building while allowing the public the fullest possible access. Unlike the White House, which is surrounded by high fencing and accessible only through tightly controlled entrances -- and which has weathered attacks by a gunman and an airplane pilot in recent years -- the Capitol is largely open to the public.

Members of the 1,100-member Capitol Police force are stationed at every door, alongside metal-detectors that survey every package and person -- except for members of Congress. Tourists and others can enter the main Capitol building, as well as the adjacent office buildings where members of Congress meet with their constituents, and that is by design.

Although several entrances to the Capitol are designated for lawmakers and staff only, anyone can approach those doors to ask questions and find themselves within inches of an important official. At least once in recent days, a harried mother stopped a Senator to ask where the bathroom was.

By contrast, the White House is open to staff, reporters and some dignitaries only by prior arrangement. A permanent identification pass to the White House is granted only after an exhaustive check of the applicant's record by the FBI. While tours of the White House are a regular feature, tourists are closely shepherded and not permitted to go off on their own as they are at the Capitol.

There are sharpshooters posted on the roof of the White House and uniformed and plainclothes Secret Service officers are on 24-hour duty. A large wrought-iron fence around the perimeter of the 16-acre White House grounds is reinforced by infrared sensors that detect any intruders.

Historical Perspective on Violence at the Capitol

Violence has occurred inside the U.S. Capitol throughout its history. The most violent incident, before Friday's shootout happened in 1954 when four Puerto Rican nationalists in the visitors' gallery of the House opened fire on the 143 lawmakers. Five congressmen were wounded, one of them seriously.

In the 1800s, Vice President Martin Van Buren carried pistols in the Senate and one lawmaker used a cane to beat another unconscious. In later years, there have been bombings and shootings as well as fistfights and an attack by one lawmaker on another with a cane.

Over the years, there have been three bombings. A device exploded in the Senate reception room shortly before midnight on July 2, 1915. The explosion damaged two rooms and the Capitol switchboard. A former Harvard University German teacher, who was upset about U.S. activities in World War I, was arrested. He committed suicide in jail.

Another bomb exploded March 1, 1971, in the men's room on the Senate side of the Capitol. It destroyed the restroom and a barbershop, but no one was injured. A caller said the bombing was to show opposition to the Vietnam War. The radical Weather Underground claimed responsibility, but no one was ever prosecuted for the act.

On November 7, 1983, another bomb exploded in a public corridor near the Senate Republican Cloak Room, detonated at around 2300 EST with a time- delay device. The explosion damaged a wood-paneled conference room near the Senate Chamber and the offices of Senator Robert Byrd. No one was injured. A group calling itself the Armed Resistance Unit claimed responsibility, saying it was done in response to U.S. military action in Grenada. Three women pleaded guilty in the attack and were sentenced to prison for five to 20 years.

In the 19th century, the Capitol sometimes resembled the Wild West. In 1856, Rep. Preston S. Brooks from South Carolina used a weighty cane to beat on Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner. Apparently Sumner had maligned Brooks' uncle during a speech a few days earlier.

A man fired two pistols at President Andrew Jackson as he stood in the Rotunda in 1835, but both guns misfired. In 1890, a journalist from the Louisville Times fatally shot former Rep. William P. Taulbee on the stairs leading to the basement. The shooting stemmed from scandal stories the newspaper wrote about Taulbee.

(c) Copyright, EmergencyNet NEWS Service, 1998. All Rights Reserved. Redistribution without permission is prohibited by law.

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