Driver killed after car chase from White House to Capitol

October 3, 2013

A woman with a 1-year-old girl 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 Carey was the driver.

D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said that 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 at about 2:15 p.m. at a White House security checkpoint, where the woman struck a barrier and a Secret Service officer with her black Infiniti. The woman then sped 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 government shutdown was interrupted by echoes of shots, officers with guns and an urgent order to “shelter in place.”

Police had a confrontation with a woman in a black car and engaged in a brief car chase with her before shots were fired outside the U.S. Capitol on Thursday. (Thomas LeGro/The Washington Post)

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 girl and carried 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 of 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,” Lanier said at an evening news conference.

Lanier said that the girl was in good condition and in protective custody. Two officers were injured in the chase along Pennsylvania Avenue, but only one, a U.S. Capitol Police officer, was treated at a hospital. He was later released.

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, according to 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 sped east and was stopped by police at a small traffic circle at the foot of Capitol Hill. There, video shot by the U.S.-funded Arabic TV station Alhurra 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, Christiansen said, 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.

Up there, 46-year-old tourist Edmund Ofori-Attah 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 itself 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 on that median. Police said they were not sure how many officers had fired or how many times the woman was shot.

Inside the Capitol, legislators were in the middle of their dragging stalemate.

“It was almost like two very rapid-fire bursts, very loud,” said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), who had been standing outside on a Capitol balcony with Rep. Matthew Cartwright (D-Pa.). They heard the gunfire and saw people running.

Around the vast complex, heavily armed Capitol Police officers began banging on doors, instructing staffers for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) to shelter in place and lock their doors.

“Shelter in place. Just get to your office,” an officer said when reporters asked what they should do.

An e-mail 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 adjourned. The Senate adjourned.

Outside, after the shots had been fired, witnesses saw the girl carried from the scene. A police 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 Carey’s apartment Thursday night.

Police said the incident showed the success of the huge security apparatus that Washington has built since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“The security perimeters worked” at both the White House and the Capitol, 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 were distributing small black buttons reading “THANK YOU, CAPITOL POLICE” with a picture of the Capitol Dome.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said he had called the injured Capitol Police officer, and the officer said he would be fine. 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.”

Clarence Williams, Colum Lynch, Rosalind S. Helderman, Paul Kane, Matt Zapotosky, Justin Jouvenal, Mark Berman, Paul Duggan, Lori Aratani, Susan Svrluga, Petula Dvorak, Sari Horwitz, David Nakamura and Jackie Kucinich contributed to this report.

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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