Police investigate 'gunshots' at US Congress

Last updated at 18:45 26 May 2006

US Capitol Police are investigating the sound of gunfire in the garage of a House of Representatives office building, Capitol Police said today.

A witness reported that a person had been wheeled out of the building on a stretcher.

Four ambulances were summoned after the gunfire was heard in the garage level of the Rayburn building, which houses offices of members of the US House of Representatives.

The building was quickly locked down, but later that restriction was lifted only to be reimposed. It has now reopened.

However, addressing questions from television and news reporters at the scene, police spokeswoman Kimberley Schneider could only confirm that a call had been received reporting gunshots at 10.30am local time.

She added: "At this time we are continuing to investigate. We do have tactical teams in the building.

"We have no reports of anybody being captured or arrested. We have no reports of any injuries at this time.

"The entire building is being searched at this time, including the firing range."

Earlier, Senate Sergeant at Arms Bill Pickle said: "We have been told by staff of shots fired and the smell of smoke in the lobby of the Rayburn House building."

Pickle said there were no reports of any injuries.

Rep. Peter Hoekstra, a Michigan Republican and head of the House intelligence committee conducting a hearing in the Rayburn building, interrupted a witness to request those attending to remain in the room and said the doors must be closed.

The Senate was in session at the time, but the House was not.

"It's a little unsettling to get a Blackberry message put in front of you that says there's gunfire in the building," he said.

There was no confirmation of gunfire.

The US Capitol Police Department's Containment & Emergency Response Team maintains an indoor shooting range in the basement of the Rayburn House Office Building, according to the department's Web site.

Jeff Connor, a spokesman for Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, said Capitol Hill police notified the office that gunfire was heard in the Rayburn building garage.

"They specifically said there was the sound of gunfire on one of the garage levels of the Rayburn House office building and asked staff to remain in their offices," Connor said.

House adjourned for holiday weekend

The House was adjourned for a US holiday weekend. Hoekstra's committee meeting was the only business known to have been in progress when the alert sounded.

At the same time, Capitol police went room to room in at least parts of the Capitol advising staff to stay in their offices, according one House aide whose office was advised.

"They want us to stay in our offices, and I'm perfectly happy to do that, but I don't feel endangered," the staffer said.

Many members of the House were back home in their districts for the Memorial Day recess. House Speaker Dennis Hastert was home in Illinois when the incident began, an aide in his office said.

Incidents of violence inside the Capitol and its office buildings are rare.

On July 24, 1998, a man with a history of mental illness shot and killed Capitol Police officer Jacob J. Chestnut at a first-floor Capitol entrance. He then charged into an adjacent suite of offices occupied by Tom DeLay, then the third-ranking House Republican, and exchanged fire with officer John Gibson, who also was killed. The gunman was wounded and captured.

In 1983, a late-night bomb, possibly set by someone protesting US military action in Grenada and Lebanon, exploded just outside the Senate chamber. No one was injured.

No comments have so far been submitted. Why not be the first to send us your thoughts, or debate this issue live on our message boards.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now