Surviving Victim Describes Shooting
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 31, 1998; Page C01
Angela Dickerson broke her silence yesterday, recounting the fateful visit to the U.S. Capitol that transformed her from anonymous tourist to bit player in history.
Dickerson, a lifelong resident of Chantilly, came into Washington last Friday to accompany relatives on tours of some of the nation's most famous sights. About 3:40 p.m., as she was walking out of the Capitol, she said, she was suddenly caught in a cross-fire.
"I knew I was shot," Dickerson said. "It was extremely terrifying.
"I knew I was shot in my shoulder. At first, I had thought I was shot in my eye, and I was more concerned about my eye than anything."
Dickerson was hit in her right shoulder, and a bullet fragment entered just below her right eye.
She said that she saw the man who shot her and that she can identify him. But she was advised by her lawyer and the U.S. attorney's office to discuss that only with federal authorities investigating the shooting, which left two U.S. Capitol Police officers dead.
Russell Eugene Weston Jr., the man suspected of killing officers Jacob J. Chestnut and John M. Gibson, also was wounded by gunfire and is recuperating in D.C. General Hospital. He has been charged with murder.
After days of being inundated by media requests for interviews, Dickerson, a slender, vibrant woman known as Angi who turned 24 yesterday, faced reporters at a Washington news conference. Her husband of 14 months, Stephen Dickerson, along with an attorney and family friend, Daniel Dorsey, sat by her side. She did not allow photographs to be taken of her, saying she is camera-shy.
Last Saturday, Dickerson's picture was published in newspapers across the country: a young woman, dressed in shorts and sneakers, her hair piled high in a ponytail, as she sat on the Capitol steps holding a compress to her right eye, blood splattered across her face, blouse and legs.
Yesterday, Dickerson faced the media dressed in a royal blue linen dress, a gold locket around her neck, her hair swept up into a French twist. The only telltale sign of the terrible event was a two-inch piece of gauze taped to the cheekbone below her right eye.
Visible only to her, however, are the flashbacks.
"I constantly re-see the whole situation, especially with seeing the pictures in the newspaper," she said. "It just reflects in my mind and I keep going over and over it."
That morning, when she left home for her first-ever visit to the Capitol and other sites, "she was very excited to go to the White House," said her husband, a sales manager for Sears in Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax County.
With throngs of other summer visitors, she and her five companions visited the White House in the morning. They had lunch at My Brother's Place, then toured the Capitol in the afternoon.
After the shooting, she gave her husband's pager number to U.S. Park Police and someone called him. He was able to telephone his wife, who had been taken to George Washington University Hospital, and she told him that her life was not in danger.
The bullet to Dickerson's shoulder entered and exited, missing muscle tissue and bone, she said. No surgery was required, but she did receive stitches for the shoulder wound, she said. She has full mobility in that shoulder.
The bullet fragment that entered below her right eye "was centimeters from blinding me . . . and millimeters from nerve," she said. Surgeons removed the fragment and stitched her lower lid. "Considering all that happened, I truly did come out the lucky one," she said.
President Clinton called her Sunday to extend his sympathy. "He checked to make sure that I was okay and apologized for the incident," she said.
Dickerson said she does not believe the Capitol should be closed to the public. But she said she does believe security checkpoints should be placed outside the entrances to the building.
Police have said Weston, who has a history of mental illness, shot Chestnut as he burst past a Capitol metal detector. Another Capitol Police officer, Douglas B. McMillan, shot at Weston as the gunman ran toward the offices of House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), police said. Right inside DeLay's suite, Gibson was killed and Weston was apprehended.
Dickerson commended Chestnut and Gibson "for their heroic and courageous actions." She and her husband sent the victims' families flowers of condolence.
She said her message to both officers, if they could hear her, would be:
"Thank you for doing such a wonderful job and for protecting and saving so many lives. I only wish that there were three surviving victims instead of just me. May God bless you."
Dickerson said she expects to return to work next week at the Ethan Allen furniture store in Springfield, where she is a designer. The Dickersons said they had no big plans to celebrate her 24th birthday yesterday.
"Today is a special birthday because I'm here with her," Stephen Dickerson said. "It could have gone the other way."
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