WASHINGTON -- A woman with a 1-year-old child in her car was fatally shot by police near the U.S. Capitol on Thursday, after a chase through the heart of Washington that brought a new jolt of fear to a city already rattled by the recent Navy Yard shooting and the federal shutdown.
The car was registered to Miriam Carey, 34, a dental hygienist from Stamford, Conn., law enforcement officials said, adding that they believed that she was the driver.
Chief Cathy Lanier of District of Columbia Police said the driver tried to breach two Washington landmarks, and that the incident was not an accident. But officials also said it did not appear to be part of any larger or organized terrorist plot.
The chase began about 2:15 p.m. at a White House security checkpoint, where the black Infiniti driven by the woman struck a barrier and a Secret Service officer. The woman drove away from that fortified icon and headed straight for another: the Capitol.
During the chase, police officers opened fire twice, both times in areas busy with tourists and office workers. The Capitol itself was locked down, as a bitter debate over the federal shutdown was interrupted by echoes of shots, officers with guns and an urgent order to "shelter in place."
The end came outside the Hart Senate Office Building, at Maryland Avenue and Second Street NE. The woman's car got stuck. Officers fired another volley. Then, moments later, an officer emerged with the child, carrying the toddler quickly away as new waves of officers arrived.
Authorities said the woman was not armed, and although the incident was first reported as a shooting at the Capitol, the only shots were fired by officers.
Police said there was no indication that the woman was part a larger threat. But they said little about why she had suddenly become a threat herself. "I am pretty confident this was not an accident," Chief Lanier said at an evening news conference.
The chief said the child was in good condition and in protective custody. Two officers were injured in the chase along Pennsylvania Avenue, but neither was seriously hurt.
The chaotic day caught Washington at an unusually low moment. Just days after the government shut down because of a budget impasse and weeks after 12 people were killed at the nearby Navy Yard, the notion of gunfire and a car hurtling from the White House to the Capitol had the city thinking the worst.
It began with something not that unusual: a driver with out-of-state plates turning into a blocked entry near the White House. It quickly became something else.
"Whoa! Whoa!," Secret Service officers were shouting at the car, said a witness, Shawn Joseph, 29. "It looked liked [the driver was] scared or lost. I thought they might have been a tourist."
But then, witnesses said, officers tried to place a barrier in front of the car. The driver swerved. The officers moved the barrier. She hit it, and a Secret Service officer was thrown up on the hood and then off the car. The officer was not badly hurt.
The driver fled east and was stopped by police at a small traffic circle at the foot of Capitol Hill. There, video the U.S.-funded Arabic TV station Alhurra shot shows officers with guns pointed at the car. The driver took off.
"I thought it was a motorcade," said Ryan Christiansen of Idaho Falls, Idaho, when he saw the black car trailed by police cars with sirens wailing. Then, the car "was pulling away, and somewhere between six and eight shots were fired," he said.
Despite the shots, the driver continued. She went around another traffic circle and then up Constitution Avenue toward the peak of Capitol Hill. There, tourist Edmund Ofori-Attah, 46, was walking toward the Hart building to ask if it was open for tours. With most of Washington's top attractions shut down, touring an office building sounded better than nothing.
Then he saw a black car whiz past. It abruptly turned left, as if to make a U-turn, and lodged on a grassy divide. "That's where it got pinned," he said. "At that point, we heard five to six rounds of gunfire, and my wife and I dropped to the ground. We were hoping not to get in the way of a stray bullet; we just lay down as low as possible. We even smelled the gunpowder in the air."
The final shots were fired there on the median. Police said they were not sure how many officers had fired, or how many times the woman was shot.
Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., was walking Thursday afternoon from the Senate side of the Capitol across the grounds toward the Russell Senate office building when he heard the noise of multiple speeding automobiles. "I wonder whose motorcade that is," he recalled saying as he strolled with his Senate companions, Ohio's Sherrod Brown and Oregon's Jeff Merkley.
The three Democrats were coming from one of their caucus' weekly lunches at which they had been discussing the next moves in the federal shutdown drama. Motorcades are a frequent sight around Capitol Hill, so it wasn't immediately apparent that there was anything wrong. But that view changed quickly, as the trio saw Capitol Police, guns drawn, rushing toward the street.
"We heard the shots, several shots," Mr. Casey said. "It was so loud and intense. Even after we heard the popping, I wasn't sure ... [until] we saw and heard the Capitol Police screaming."
Police first told the senators to shelter behind a car. Mr. Casey said they were there for perhaps three or four minutes before other officers told them to head back to the Capitol Building, about 75 yards behind them. They sought safety there until the brief Capitol complex lockdown ended.
"I am grateful for the fast action and professionalism of the Capitol Police, and my thoughts and prayers are with the officer who was injured in the incident," Mr. Casey said in a statement.
Inside the Capitol, Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va., standing on a Capitol balcony with Pennsylvania's Rep. Matthew Cartwright, D-Lackawanna, said they both heard the gunfire and saw people running. "It was almost like two very rapid-fire bursts, very loud," Mr. Connolly said.
Around the vast complex, heavily armed Capitol Police began banging on doors, instructing staffers for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., as well as reporters to shelter in place and lock doors.
An email went out: "Gunshots have been reported on Capitol Hill. ... Close, lock and stay away from external doors and windows." Sharpshooters took positions outside the iconic building. The House and Senate adjourned.
Outside, after the shots had been fired, witnesses saw the child carried from the scene. An officer sat down on the median and appeared to struggle for breath, visibly shaken.
In the hours after that, law enforcement officials said the car had been registered to Carey. The FBI was at her apartment Thursday night.
Police said the incident showed the success of the huge security apparatus Washington has built since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. "The security perimeters worked" at both the White House and the Capitol, Chief Lanier said. "They did exactly what they were supposed to do."
Both houses of Congress came back later in the day and offered thanks to the Capitol Police. The House gave officers a standing ovation. Senate staffers distributed small black buttons reading "THANK YOU, CAPITOL POLICE" with a picture of the Capitol Dome.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he had called the injured Capitol Police officer, who said he would be fine. Mr. Reid added that the officer said, "The only thing I do every day is to make sure you and everyone who works up here is safe."
First Published October 3, 2013 6:45 PM