Murder Charges Filed in Capitol Rampage
and Cheryl W. Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, July 26, 1998; Page A1 Russell Eugene Weston Jr., a former mental patient from Montana, was charged yesterday with murdering two U.S. Capitol Police officers during a rampage in the Capitol building that allegedly began when Weston walked up behind an officer and shot him point-blank in the back of the head.
Law enforcement sources and court documents added chilling new details yesterday about the Friday afternoon killings of Jacob J. Chestnut, 58, and John M. Gibson, 42, both 18-year veterans of the force. They said that after bursting through a Capitol security checkpoint and shooting Chestnut, Weston chased a screaming woman down a hallway until he was confronted by Gibson, who pushed the woman out of harm's way and exchanged deadly gunfire with the intruder.
Weston, 41, slipped into unconsciousness and was downgraded early yesterday from stable to critical condition after surgery Friday at D.C. General Hospital. Doctors said he had a "50-50" chance of survival. He was ordered held without bond yesterday during a brief hearing in D.C. Superior Court.
An FBI agent's affidavit filed in court says Gibson and another officer identified by law enforcement sources as Douglas B. McMillan fired at Weston several times. Angela Dickerson, a 24-year-old employee of a Virginia furniture store, was wounded by stray gunfire. She was released yesterday from George Washington University Medical Center.
Meanwhile, official Washington paused yesterday to pay tribute to the pair of officers who died in service to their government, as the nation's leaders vowed that the domed symbol of American democracy would remain open and accessible to the public. The Capitol did reopen yesterday, with flags at half staff and the Capitol Police force guarding the doors as usual.
"I want to emphasize that this building is the keystone of freedom, that it is open to the people because it is the people's building," said House Speaker Newt Gingrich. "No terrorist, no deranged person, no act of violence will block us from preserving our freedom and keeping this building open to people from all over the world."
President Clinton yesterday praised the two men as heroes who "laid down their lives for their friends, their co-workers and their fellow citizens," and he reminded the country that 79 other law enforcement officers have been killed this year. "Every American should be grateful to them for the freedom and the security they guard with their lives," Clinton said.
Friday's incident has brought new attention to the tricky security balance between ensuring public access and protecting public officials, and several members of Congress said it demonstrated the need for a long-delayed $125 million visitor's center that could help security officers control access to the Capitol complex.
But most observers agreed there was little the Capitol Police could have done to stop a determined and apparently deranged gunman like Weston, who had complained to neighbors in Rimini, Mont., that the government was using a satellite dish to spy on him. He once accused his frail 86-year-old landlady of assault and battery, and allegedly harassed several county and state officials when they refused to press charges against her.
Weston spent the last several years in the Montana backwoods, living on disability benefits in a cabin 40 miles from the tiny shack where the reclusive Theodore Kaczynski built his bombs. In early 1996, law enforcement sources said, he was interviewed by the Secret Service about unusual comments he had made about President Clinton and delusional letters he had written about the federal government.
Weston was entered into the Secret Service's computer files as a potential low-level threat, but the agency did not contact other law enforcement agencies about Weston and had no further contact with him, the sources said. "The volume of people that the Secret Service checks out and never comes into contact with again is just unbelievable," one law enforcement official said.
In Valmeyer, Ill., the riverside town where Weston grew up, the Rev. Robin Keating read a statement from Weston's family yesterday apologizing profusely for the deaths of the officers. "It is with great sorrow that we speak today sorrow for the families that lost their loved ones, sorrow for the children that lost their daddies," the statement says. "Our apologies to the nation as a whole, for the trauma our son has caused."
An affidavit signed by FBI Special Agent Armin Showalter and filed in D.C. Superior Court yesterday recaps the horrifying moments after Weston allegedly walked into the Document Room Door on the House side of the Capitol at 3:40 p.m. Friday. Law enforcement sources said security videotapes that captured some of the incident provide vivid images of the grisly scene.
Chestnut was standing with his back toward a metal detector, writing some directions for a father and son who had just finished a tour of the Capitol, according to one law enforcement source who watched the videotape.
Weston allegedly walked through the detector, setting it off, then immediately pointed his gun at the back of Chestnut's head and shot before the officer had a chance to take action. Chestnut collapsed in front of the tourist and his 15-year-old son, who was soaked in the fallen officer's blood, according to the source.
"He was shot without warning," said Sgt. Dan Nichols, a Capitol Police spokesman.
As congressional aides and tourists scrambled for cover, Officer McMillan fired back at Weston, authorities said. Dickerson, a visitor who was standing nearby, was shot in the face and shoulder by a stray bullet, but officials said they have not determined who shot her.
"I don't really consider myself a hero," said McMillan, who was working near Chestnut's station Friday and said he witnessed his killing. He declined further comment.
Weston ran past them, following an unidentified female bystander who was running for cover toward a door that reads "Private Entrance" leading to the majority whip's suite. Inside, Gibson yelled for DeLay and his staff to take cover under desks and other furniture. DeLay yesterday said he and several staff members hid in his private bathroom and locked the door.
Before Gibson was able to draw his gun, the woman, with Weston behind her, appeared in the doorway. Gibson "pushed her away to safety," and Weston shot him once in the chest, Nichols said. Gibson then grabbed his own gun and shot Weston in the legs.
While the two men fired more shots at each other one witness said there were at least eight or 10 rounds the woman scrambled frantically in the hallway from closed door to closed door, pleading for someone to help her. Witnesses told police they heard her yelling, "Help! Help! Help!" but they were too afraid to open doors for her, sources said. Moments later, more Capitol Police officers arrived on the scene and arrested Weston, who had "additional ammunition" for his six-shot revolver in his pocket, according to the FBI affidavit.
"It was just a mess," one police source said. "Chestnut was executed, and Gibson saved everybody's lives in that office. If it wasn't for his fast thinking, I'd hate to think of what could have happened in that office."
"He tried to teach me hockey," DeLay said, his voice breaking. "I never did understand hockey."
Weston, who received CPR from Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and a D.C. paramedic shortly after the incident, has undergone surgery twice for gunshot wounds to the torso, buttocks and legs, and his surgeon, Paul Oriaifo, said he has a "50-50" chance of survival. Neither Weston nor the slain officers was wearing a bulletproof vest, law enforcement sources said.
Authorities charged Weston under a federal statute that covers cases in which federal law enforcement officers are slain during performance of their official duties. The case will be moved on Monday from the local court to federal court, which was closed yesterday. Attorney General Janet Reno has the option of seeking the death penalty, but a Justice Department spokeswoman said discussions of the question have not yet begun.
The last federal execution took place in 1963, although more than a dozen federal prisoners are on death row, including Timothy J. McVeigh, who was convicted in the April 1995 bombing of a federal office building in Oklahoma City. Prosecutors have been especially reluctant to seek the death penalty for federal offenses in the District, where voters overwhelmingly rejected a local version of the law in a 1992 referendum.
The Capitol Police force has worked almost round-the-clock on the investigation, along with officers from the FBI, D.C. police and other law enforcement agencies. The arrest warrant for Weston was signed at 2 a.m. yesterday, and federal agents executed a search warrant for Weston's shack yesterday afternoon. Other agents have been interviewing neighbors and family members in Illinois and Montana and more than 80 witnesses in Washington.
It has been a horrible two days for the 1,295-member Capitol force, which had had only one other casualty in its 170-year history, an accidental shooting death during a 1984 training exercise. A visibly exhausted Nichols said yesterday at a news conference that officers are taking solace in the support they have received from the public, and in the fact that they succeeded in protecting the members of Congress.
"It's been a trying couple of days for us," Nichols said as he choked back tears. "It's a difficult time, and the officers are going to rely on each other. ... But the gunman didn't get very far into the building, and that was our intention."
Funerals for the officers have not been scheduled, but DeLay said members of Congress hope to honor them with a joint resolution tomorrow and a memorial service on Tuesday. Congress also has created a memorial fund for the families of the slain officers, and donations can be sent to the U.S. Capitol Police Memorial Fund, Washington, D.C. 20510.
Nichols also said the Capitol Police had received many requests from visitors wanting to know if they could leave flowers on the House steps in honor of the fallen officers.
They certainly could, he said. And yesterday, they did.
Contributing to coverage of the shootings at the U.S. Capitol were staff writers William Claiborne, Maria Elena Fernandez, Steven Gray, Hamil R. Harris, Dana Hull, Bill Miller, Philip P. Pan, Avis Thomas-Lester and Linda Wheeler and Metro Resource Director Margot Williams.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company