Lawmakers to Honor Officers Slain in Capitol in 1998

By Mary Ann Akers And Paul Kane
Thursday, July 24, 2008

A simple moment of silence today on Capitol Hill will mark one of the most somber moments in recent congressional history -- and serve as another reminder of the fortress that Congress has become.

At 3:40 p.m., the House and Senate plan to observe moments of silence to mark the 10th anniversary of the shooting rampage that killed two Capitol Police officers, Jacob J. Chestnut and John M. Gibson, and left the Hill in shock. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (Ohio), Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) then will lead lawmakers out to the east lawn of the Capitol grounds, where they will plant a tree in the slain officers' memory.

"Both officers were killed in the line of duty defending the Capitol against an armed intruder," the leaders wrote to all members of the House and Senate yesterday.

On July 24, 1998 -- a hot, sunny Friday during the summer run-up to the release of the Starr report that led to President Bill Clinton's impeachment -- Russell E. Weston walked into the Capitol through a doorway on the east side, shooting and killing Chestnut, who manned a security post there.

Weston burst through a side door that led into the offices of then-Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), the majority whip. Weston, who had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, shot Gibson, a detective, who returned fire and wounded Weston.

Gibson died at the hospital, while a freshman senator -- Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), a heart surgeon -- raced across the Capitol and helped save Weston's life. Frist tended to him during the ambulance ride to the hospital, unaware that he was the shooter.

In May of this year, a federal judge denied Weston's request to be released from a federal mental health facility near Raleigh, N.C. Forensic psychologists testified that he still suffers from delusions. He may remain in federal custody for years without ever standing trial.

The shootings were the first of three events -- the others were the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the next month's anthrax attacks -- that prompted congressional leaders to shore up the complex's security.

In addition to barricades and bollards that have established a virtual fence around the 274-acre complex, Congress has spent more than $620 million constructing the Capitol Visitor Center, a 58,000-square-foot underground building on the east front of the Capitol. All members of the public will have to enter through the visitor center. After years of delays and cost overruns, it is set to open in December.

The tree honoring Chestnut and Gibson will be located just next to the grounds that were torn up to build the visitor center.

Feel the Burn

This could be the sweatiest day of the year on Capitol Hill, and not because of the ongoing heat and humidity. Richard Simmons, the fitness video icon, is scheduled to testify this morning before the House Education and Labor Committee about the importance of physical education in public schools to combat childhood obesity.

Afterwards -- be very afraid -- he says he'll lead a "pro-PE rally" that sounds an awful lot like a congressional aerobics class.

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