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Suspect killed at the end of a car chase from White House to Capitol

October 3, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
When a car hit the barricades at the White House, police confronted the female driver before she began a high-speed chase up Constitution Avenue. Their pursuit ended on Capitol Hill with gunshots fired by authorities. Gwen Ifill talks to Todd Zwillich of Public Radio International and WNYC about the dramatic and deadly incident.

GWEN IFILL: Our lead story tonight: Bedlam erupted in the heart of Washington, with a chaotic car chase and shooting that ended before stunned tourists, lawmakers and congressional staffers. The lone suspect was killed. A police officer was injured.

The violent conclusion with gunshots and a car crash came just steps from the Capitol grounds after a chase that began at the White House. Capitol Police say a woman, apparently with a child in her car, tried to ram security barricades, then raced up Constitution Avenue.

Capitol Police Chief Kim Dine:

KIM DINE, Capitol Police Chief: It was a vehicle in the vicinity of White House that apparently attempted to pass a barricade. The vehicle was attempted to be stopped by Secret Service uniformed division. Shots were potentially fired. They pursued the vehicle. The vehicle came — struck one of our vehicles here at Second and Maryland — Second and First and — here and then ultimately ended up at Second and Maryland Northeast, where it crashed into one of our barricades.

GWEN IFILL: An eyewitness outside the Capitol described watching the scene unfold.

THOMAS LARISON, eyewitness: The cops surrounded them and they had their guns drawn and they were yelling to get out of the car, and it swung out and somehow it got past.

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GWEN IFILL: Senators Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania were also outside.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN, D-Ohio: We heard something.

QUESTION: About how many shots?

SHERROD BROWN: Five or six but there must have been some before, because the — the police cars — because Bob first said, why are all these police cars…

SEN. BOB CASEY, D-Penn.: They were already there.

SHERROD BROWN: First, we thought it was a — like a motorcade, a presidential motorcade, but it wasn’t, apparently.

GWEN IFILL: Inside the Capitol Building, people were told to shelter in place, many in the dark, as the situation outside remained active.

A Park Police helicopter hovered near the Capitol dome after police called for help. Less than an hour after it began, the all-clear was sounded, people were cleared to leave the building, and the House went back into session.

Todd Zwillich is a reporter for WNYC and Public Radio International’s “The Takeaway.” He was on Capitol Hill today and is there with us — for us tonight.

So, Todd, where were you when all this unfolded?

TODD ZWILLICH, WNYC Radio: I was indoors, Gwen, in the work area in the Senate Press Gallery covering the government shutdown, and having bit of a lull in the afternoon because negotiations had been at a standstill.

Then word started to spread. There was a lockdown notice over the P.A. system in the Capitol. Really, I learned first about it on Twitter. A couple of my colleagues were out in front of the Capitol Building having a smoke, heard the shots across the Capitol grounds, put it on Twitter immediately.

I grabbed my gear and ran outside. And by that time, there were Capitol Police running through the building, some of them with weapons drawn, but most of them just with them down, telling people the building was on lockdown. We were able to get out at that time because the incident had just occurred. And then we went outside to try and find out what was going on.

GWEN IFILL: Now, we know now that this started at the White House, and this chase went up Constitution Avenue about a mile away, ended up at the Capitol, before the gunfire erupted, or at least that’s the gunfire that killed this woman. Do you have any sense of what the timeline was other than that? Because by the time it got to you, this was well under way.

TODD ZWILLICH:  Not much, except that we know that it all happened very quickly. This was a high-speed chase, so the latency between leaving the White House and arriving here on the Capitol grounds with the chase, I’m speculating a bit, Gwen, but it could not have been very long.

When you watch the video, as I know you have, it’s a high-speed chase. It’s about two miles down Pennsylvania Avenue, a little bit less, from the 15th and Pennsylvania at the White House to the Capitol grounds, a few feet from where I’m standing, so on the order of minutes.

GWEN IFILL: Now, most people outside of Washington may not realize how many different law enforcement organizations are involved in something like this. But as far as you know, the people involved in this case, in this shooting were the Capitol Police, right?

TODD ZWILLICH:  That’s true, except there were other police organizations involved giving chase from the White House, remember. There was uniformed Secret Service. At a certain point, D.C. Metro Police were involved. I can’t tell you exactly when, but apparently there was at least one D.C. Metro car somewhere in the chase.

U.S. Park Police were involved and of course the U.S. Capitol Police.

GWEN IFILL: And the one officer who was down, as far as we know, is a Park Police officer?

TODD ZWILLICH:  As far as I know. And that was what — we’re hearing that that officer was injured when the cruiser struck a barrier or some object. That car is still right down here on Constitution Avenue, not too far from where I’m standing.

It’s mangled really, really badly. It apparently in a high-speed moment struck some immovable object, maybe a barrier or a tree or something else, not sure, but doesn’t appear to have been struck by the suspect because the — I saw the suspect’s car. It’s relatively unscathed, not completely unscathed, but did not cause the damage on that mangled cruiser.

GWEN IFILL: And how about the suspect’s car? Were you able to see that?

TODD ZWILLICH:  Yes. Yes. I was able to see the suspect’s car, from a bit of a distance, down the block, but I was able to see it, and I have seen it, of course, in better photographs from some of my colleagues, damaged, yes, but not mangled like a high-speed impact, like the cruiser was.

GWEN IFILL: Now, we’re hearing tonight that the driver who was killed was a woman and that there was a 1-year-old child in the car and that they appear at least there were Connecticut plates on the car. Have you heard anything more on that?

TODD ZWILLICH:  A 34-year-old woman, we’re told, with Connecticut plates. So, I don’t have much more than what you have. The police have confirmed that much.

I will say this about the officer who was injured. We’re hearing that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has had a phone call with that officer, who is conscious and in hospital and apparently doing OK. Harry Reid himself, as a young man in the early ’60s, was a Capitol Police officer when he was in law school. He came up here and was an officer for money at that time, so he’s — like everybody here, has a lot of affection for the Capitol Police, so apparently got off the phone with that officer and reported out through a spokesman that the officer is doing OK.

GWEN IFILL: Now, of course, you have been up on Capitol Hill covering this big government shutdown. The Capitol Police, are they affected by this?

TODD ZWILLICH:  Affected? Gwen, I’m sorry to say that this kind of thing happens periodically, not necessarily shots fired or people dying, but it’s a fairly regular occurrence that people run barriers or roll through in a high-speed fashion.

Shutdowns and lockdowns and shelter in place — shelter in place scenarios aren’t all that uncommon. So, affected and phased, I wouldn’t say so. I think they’re probably affected when one of their own is injured, but…

GWEN IFILL: I guess — I guess, Todd, what I meant is whether they’re being paid for their work this week.

TODD ZWILLICH:  Oh, I beg — I beg your pardon.

U.S. Capitol Police on back pay right now, which is to say they’re not being paid at the moment. They’re of course essential, so they’re working, not getting paychecks, expect to be paid once there is a solution to this government shutdown. They would be back-paid to October 1.

GWEN IFILL: And Congress is back at work tonight?

TODD ZWILLICH:  Both the House and Senate have adjourned, so when you say back at work, in a manner of speaking. There were House votes today, show votes. There is no agreement.

You mentioned maybe some movement on debt limit. I’m sure you will talk about that, but we’re waiting around a lot for a deal, and this incident today has really brought a lot of that into stark relief.

GWEN IFILL: Well, we will be talking, you’re right, about all of that later in the program.

Todd Zwillich, thank you so much.