A U.S. Capitol Police officer was killed and a second was injured on Friday afternoon following an attack on the Capitol, in which authorities say a suspect rammed a vehicle into the officers. The attack came nearly three months after the deadly insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Friday’s deadly attack prompted another lockdown across the Capitol grounds, setting the U.S. capital city once again on edge. Less than two weeks ago, the outer security perimeter and barbed wire that had encircled the Capitol Building since the pro-Trump mob broke into the complex had started to come down.
This time, the barricade that the suspect tried to ram through stopped the attack, after which the suspect was shot and killed by responding law enforcement. But the incident’s proximity to Jan. 6 was an unambiguous reminder that the formerly accessible Capitol grounds designed to embody America’s principles of transparency and open governance has become a target of violent attack.
At a rare press briefing on Friday, authorities said that there does not appear to be an ongoing threat. They said that the suspect was not known to the Capitol Hill police or the D.C. metropolitan police. They did not have any information so far about his motive, including whether he was targeting a particular lawmaker. They said the incident did not appear to be terrorism related. The investigation is ongoing.
According to authorities, the suspect rammed a blue sedan into a barricade along Constitution Avenue and hit the officers with the car. He then exited the vehicle with a knife in hand and “lunged” at police. He failed to respond to verbal commands from officers, and “at least” one officer then fired. He has been pronounced dead.
The attack comes during what is already a deadly year for law enforcement in D.C. The officer who died Friday was identified by the agency as Officer William “Billy” Evans later in the afternoon. The other officer who was injured was not identified.
The Jan. 6 attack resulted in five deaths, including another member of the Capitol Police, Brian Sicknick. Two more law enforcement officers, Capitol Police Officer Howard Liebengood and DC metropolitan police officer Jeffrey Smith, who reportedly responded to the pro-Trump mob, subsequently died of suicide.
“I ask you to please keep the United States Capitol Police family in your thoughts and prayers at this time. It has been an extremely difficult and challenging year for us, but we will get through this, and we do appreciate the community support,” said acting chief of U.S. Capitol Police Yogananda Pittman at the press briefing.
Videos of the scene and response circulated on social media, including of a helicopter landing on a Capitol lawn near the scene, east of the Capitol building, as captured by Punchbowl News. Roll Call also captured video of national guard troops responding.
“We are shocked and saddened to learn that the U.S. Capitol and its police officers have once again come under a fatal attack,” U.S. Capitol Historical Society CEO Jane Campbell said in a statement. “This is a remarkable turn of history. In more than two centuries, never before have two acts of violence at the Capitol occurred so closely together.”
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi ordered Capitol flags at half-mast following the incident. “Today, once again, these heroes risked their lives to protect our Capitol and our Country, with the same extraordinary selflessness and spirit of service seen on January 6. On behalf of the entire House, we are profoundly grateful,” Pelosi said in a statement. “Congress stands ready to assist law enforcement with a swift and comprehensive investigation into this heinous attack.”
Lawmakers from both parties put out statements of sympathy for the officers. “On this Good Friday, I would ask that all Americans pray for healing for the surviving injured officer, for comfort for Officer Evans’s family, and for all the officers and families of our Capitol Police,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement.
President Joe Biden also put out a statement offering condolences. “I have been receiving ongoing briefings from my Homeland Security Advisor, and will be getting further updates as the investigation proceeds,” Biden said.
The incident will almost certainly spark further debate on security around the Hill. On Friday, both the House and Senate were on recess, so an already unusually empty complex due to coronavirus would have had even less people present. But on Jan. 6, as rioters sought to disrupt the certification of the presidential election results, hundreds of lawmakers, staff members, and administrative staff had to hide from the insurrectionists who broke into the Capitol building. For several weeks after, the atmosphere in Congress remained tense as new security measures were put in place to protect the people who work in the building.
Until recently, the spot where the incident happened on Friday was out of public reach because of an outer perimeter that had been put in place following the Jan. 6 attack. The outer barrier had been recently removed; lawmakers from both sides of the aisle and residents of the District complained the campus was inaccessible to the general public.