WASHINGTON: A dramatic car chase through the streets of Washington from near the White House to the U.S. Capitol ended in gunfire on Thursday when law enforcement officers shot and killed the driver as lawmakers and aides huddled in a lockdown.
The identity of the driver – a woman – was not released. “The suspect in the vehicle was struck by gunfire and at this point has been pronounced (dead),” Washington’s police chief, Cathy Lanier, told reporters.
Driving a black car, the 34-year-old woman rammed security barricades “at the very outer perimeter of the White House,” U.S. Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said. Then the car, carrying a 1-year-old girl, raced up Pennsylvania Avenue toward the Capitol where Congress was in session.
Police gave chase and fired at the car. It finally came to a halt near the Capitol building, said Capitol Police Chief Kim Dine.
“My understanding is there was a 1-year-old child in the car,” Dine said. “I believe one of our officers rescued the child,” who was taken to a hospital.
The incident rattled Washington just three weeks after a government contractor opened fire at the Washington Navy Yard, about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from the Capitol, killing 12 people and wounding three others before he was shot to death by police.
Michael McCaul, the chairman of the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee, told CNN that officials believe the woman driving the car in Thursday’s incident may have had mental health problems.
“I got that from multiple sources – that they think she may have had some mental health issues,” he said. “Obviously the way she responded at the gate near the White House and then turning around and hitting Secret Service.”
The woman was a resident of Connecticut and the girl in the car was her daughter, McCaul said.
When the shooting erupted, lawmakers were trying to find a solution to a budget impasse that partially shut down the U.S. government this week. The Capitol was locked down for about an hour during the incident.
Lawmakers were told to shelter in place on the floor of the House. Outside, some tourists were frightened.
“I was just eating a hot dog over here and I heard about four or five gunshots, and then a swarm of police cars came in wailing their sirens,” said Whit Dabney, 13, who was visiting Washington from Louisville, Kentucky, and heard the shots a couple of blocks away.
Witness Travis Gilbert said several police cars chased the black sedan at high speed toward the Capitol.
“They ran all the red lights. It was a very dangerous situation,” Gilbert said.
HIT BY CAR
Two officers were hurt in Thursday’s incident. One was a Secret Service officer who was struck by the suspect’s car outside the White House, Donovan said.
The other was a Capitol Police officer whose car struck a barricade during the mid-afternoon chase. It ranged over about a mile and a half and lasted just a few minutes, officials said.
All the shooting appears to have been done by police; law enforcement sources said the suspect did not shoot a gun and there is no indication that she had one.
Dine said it appeared there was no connection to terrorism.
Just before the Capitol lockdown, Senator John McCain of Arizona was on the Senate floor urging that President Barack Obama and a bipartisan group of senators launch negotiations to break the deadlock over government funding and a debt limit increase.
The House had just passed a bill to fund the National Guard and reservists who are not on active duty during the shutdown.
The Capitol police, who were deemed “essential” staff, were at work despite the government shutdown, but they are not being paid.
“What really comes home to me is that these are all people who are working without pay right now,” Representative Matt Cartwright, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, said on CNN. He was outside on a Capitol balcony when he said he heard seven or eight shots “all in less than a second.”
Obama was briefed on the incident, a White House official said, providing no further details.
Security is tight near the Capitol, but there have been previous shootings in the area. In 1998, a gunman burst through a security checkpoint at the Capitol 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 Jr., was not charged with a crime because of apparent mental instability. — REUTERS