Rayburn Reopens After Gunfire Report

By Bill Brubaker and Charles Babington
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, May 26, 2006; 6:12 PM

The Rayburn House Office Building was locked down for more than four hours today after a New Jersey congressman reported hearing the sound of gunfire in the building's garage.

The noise apparently came from construction work being done in the building, Capitol Police spokeswoman Sgt. Kimberly Schneider said.

"There were some workers . . . in the area of the Rayburn garage, in the elevator area, and in doing their routine duties they made some sort of a noise that sounded like shots fired," Schneider said.

She said that while the police investigation is continuing, the construction work is a "plausible explanation" for the noise that also briefly closed the Capitol building and locked down D.C. public schools.

"This is very good news . . . It's a very happy conclusion to a long day," Schenider said at her third news conference of the afternoon. All three were carried live by cable news networks. The Rayburn building was locked down shortly after 10:30 a.m. after Capitol Police received a call from the office of Rep. Jim Saxton (R-N.J.). Saxton asked one of his staffers to call police after hearing what he thought were gunshots, a member of his staff said late this afternoon.

The building was reopened about 3 p.m.

In between, House members, congressional staff members and visitors to the sprawling building on Independence Avenue were told not to leave their offices as SWAT officers -- dressed in black, guns at the ready -- made a methodical, door to door sweep. The 2.4-million-square-foot Rayburn building has four floors above ground, two basements, and three levels of underground garage space.

Schenider said early this afternoon that police had to insure that "every single person who is in the Rayburn building belongs in the Rayburn building."

"That means doing it the old fashioned way," she said as the search for suspects and weapons continued. "We're going door to door, floor by floor. Every inch -- every square inch -- of the Rayburn building is going to be cleared out today."

"We are handling this as a very serious matter," Schneider told reporters. "I want to make that clear."

The Capitol building itself, connected by a tunnel to the Rayburn building, was largely unaffected. At first, no one was allowed to leave the Capitol. Later, it was open for above-ground access, although its tunnels remained closed, the House Emergency Communications Center said in an e-mail alert at 11:27 a.m. Still later, the Capitol was locked down briefly, then reopened.

Meanwhile, all public schools in the District briefly went into lockdown as a result of the situation around the Capitol, a spokeswoman for the school system said. School officials wanted to err on the side of caution, she said. The schools were reopened by mid-afternoon.

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