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After Brief Lockdown At U.S. Capitol, Here's What We Know


Capitol Hill this afternoon was a place for a lot of police activity. The U.S. Capitol went into lockdown after a man with a weapon entered the Capitol Visitor Center. He was shot by police and taken to the hospital. NPR congressional correspondent Ailsa Chang has been following the story and joins us now. Welcome to the show, Ailsa.


MCEVERS: What more can you tell us about what happened today?

CHANG: Well, according to the chief of Capitol police, Matthew Verderosa, a man basically entered the security checkpoint you need to pass through before entering the Capitol Visitor Center. Police would not confirm the man's identity at this point. But while he was going through the security screening at about 2:40 p.m. today, he drew a weapon. And we're still not told what kind of weapon. And he pointed that weapon at Capitol police officers. That's when an officer fired his weapon and hit the man who was taken into custody and is undergoing surgery.

We're also told by police that a woman between 35 to 45 years old suffered minor injuries, and she as well was transported to the hospital. Now, as of now, law enforcement officers believe that this was just an act of a single person and that there's no reason to believe that this is anything beyond a criminal act. They do believe it is someone who has visited the Capitol grounds before, but would not confirm who that was.

MCEVERS: What was it like for the Capitol staffers and the tourists who were there at the time?

CHANG: Well, I was here. I was on the Senate side when all of this was going down. For about one hour from about 2:45 p.m. to 3:45 p.m. this afternoon, the Capitol was on lockdown. We were told to shelter in place. No one could enter or exit the Capitol during that hour. Now the Capitol's been reopened for business. The Visitor Center was closed for the rest of the day. They do expect, however, to reopen the Visitor Center tomorrow.

MCEVERS: And we should say Congress is on recess, right?

CHANG: That's right. That's right. That does not mean that no lawmakers are around. For example, Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland had at least a couple appointments with Democratic senators today. So lawmakers, even during recess, are never completely absent from the Capitol.

MCEVERS: Right. And this happened at the Capitol Visitor Center, as we said. Tell us where exactly that is and what security is like there.

CHANG: Well, it's underground, and it's basically the main entrance for tourists. It's a huge complex. Everyone has to go through a metal detector to get into the U.S. Capitol if you're, you know, arriving for nonbusiness reasons. Every year about 3 million visitors pour through what's called the CVC, the Capitol Visitor Center, so you can imagine the security challenges of such a place. And at any one moment, this place underground - the CVC - can accommodate up to 4,000 people. So obviously security is really, really tight. And especially now it's even more crowded because it's cherry blossom season.

The center was designed basically so it would be very difficult for, say, an active shooter to get from there to where lawmakers offices are. People were especially concerned about this after a shooting in 1998. The summer of 1998, two Capitol police officers - John Gibson and Jacob Chestnut - were killed by a shooter named Russell Eugene Weston Jr. And basically what happened in the summer of '98 is he was able to get past a security checkpoint, and he was able to run toward a door that led to the suites of then Majority Whip Tom DeLay of Texas. So they've redesigned it for, you know, the public entering. And so basically law enforcement officers say that security worked the way it was supposed to.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Ailsa Chang. Thank you.

CHANG: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kelly McEvers is a two-time Peabody Award-winning journalist and former host of NPR's flagship newsmagazine, All Things Considered. She spent much of her career as an international correspondent, reporting from Asia, the former Soviet Union, and the Middle East. She is the creator and host of the acclaimed Embedded podcast, a documentary show that goes to hard places to make sense of the news. She began her career as a newspaper reporter in Chicago.
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
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