Deaths Leave Families in State of Shock
and Manuel Perez-Rivas
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, July 26, 1998; Page A19 On a clear, sunny day like yesterday, Jacob J. Chestnut would have been tending the squash, cucumbers and red and green peppers in his vegetable garden, sharing the bounty with his family and neighbors.
But the lush plot alongside Chestnut's house in Fort Washington stood empty and his heartbroken family and friends remained secluded indoors, struggling to accept the loss of 58-year-old Chestnut, who held together four generations of family in Prince George's County.
Chestnut, an 18-year veteran of the Capitol Police force, was killed Friday, along with U.S. Capitol Police Special Agent John M. Gibson, 42, in a shootout at the U.S. Capitol. Chestnut was the first to fall when 41-year-old Russell Eugene Weston Jr., a Montana man known to federal agents for making threatening remarks about federal officials, burst through a security checkpoint and opened fire.
Weston stopped shooting only after Gibson returned fire, striking him in the legs and stomach. Weston was in critical condition yesterday at D.C. General Hospital.
Angela Dickerson, 24, of Chantilly, an interior designer for a furniture store in Springfield, was struck in the shoulder and eye during the shootout. She was "still in a bit of a shock" but was released from George Washington University Medical Center about 12:30 p.m. yesterday, a hospital official said.
Gibson and Chestnut were pronounced dead in the hospitals where they were rushed, and the landscapes of their families' lives were irrevocably changed.
Yesterday, officers in a Capitol Police squad car kept watch over the two-story brick colonial where three generations of Chestnuts live in a quiet Fort Washington neighborhood.
"I just can't believe this," said Betty Wenying Johnson, 49, Chestnut's sister-in-law. "The bad things always happen to the good people. He was the best husband, the best father you could think of."
Throughout much of the morning, deliveries of flowers and food arrived at the Gibson home. Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, the House minority leader, was among the mourners who visited the Gibson family in person to pay their respects. On Capitol Hill, House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, to whose staff Gibson was assigned, called Gibson "a very dear friend" and "a great man of intense integrity."
"He was simply the finest man I have ever known," DeLay said. "And he died so that my staff and the public and I could live."
In the quiet Woodbridge community where Gibson had lived with his wife and three children for about 15 years, he, too, was remembered as a loving father, devoted husband, hard worker and caring neighbor. He was working his last shift Friday before taking time off for a vacation with his wife and children.
"This has hit the whole neighborhood," said Shelly Davis, a 37-year-old mother of three who lives a few houses away. "We were all outside last night, in tears. He was really loved."
Both officers were hailed as heroes by grateful legislators, left stunned by the shooting. But the words of praise did little to ease the grief of the victims' relatives and friends.
"He always walked the neighborhood to make sure everybody was okay," said William Broome, 29, who lives across the street from the Chestnuts. "Sometimes, he would pick vegetables and bring them to the neighbors."
When Chestnut worked the 3 to 11 p.m. shift, he often spent his mornings mowing his in-laws' lawn several blocks away and running errands for them. Chestnut's daughter, Karen, 21, and her daughter, Jasmine, 3, lived at home. Karen is studying history at the University of Maryland. A son, William, 19, is a student at Florida A&M University.
"We are very, very close," Johnson said. "That's the reason we bought houses two blocks from each other, to look over each other."
Chestnut met his wife while stationed in Taipei, Taiwan. She was working at the U.S. Embassy, and he was working for the U.S. Air Force military police. They married in 1974, moved to South Dakota two years later and had two children.
The family relocated to Fort Washington in 1980 after Chestnut had spent 20 years in the Air Force. Soon thereafter, he became a Capitol Police officer.
After 18 years on the police force, he was counting down to retirement. He had begun to talk about spending more time fishing, playing golf, traveling with his wife, enjoying his life.
"I feel good that people are calling him a hero," Johnson said. "But that doesn't bring him back."
In the Lake Ridge subdivision of Woodbridge, several police officers and detectives stood guard outside the Gibson home. The agent's neighbors mingled in their yards to talk about a man who made them feel safer just because he lived on their street.
"He tried to take care of us all," said Bill Sigmund, 60, who has known the Gibson family since the children, now teenagers, stood just knee-high.
Sigmund often had good talks with Gibson when they met at their mailboxes in the middle of the cul-de-sac.
"We always felt safe here because we always knew we could call on him if we ever needed anything," Sigmund said. "He was always there for us."
His neighbors remembered Gibson as a hard worker who spent long hours at his job on Capitol Hill. When he was not at work, he was always around the house, taking his two sons and his daughter to soccer games or fishing, walking his dog, or lending a hand to neighbors. Though he had lived in Woodbridge for many years, he still spoke with a strong New England accent, and was still a Red Sox fan.
"He would do whatever he could do to help," said Don Carter, 54, a next-door neighbor who installs computer networks for the Army. Carter, who lost much of his left leg to gangrene, said Gibson was always ready to help with the yardwork. "He was just a good guy."
Dickerson and her family, for their part, sought to remain out of the public eye. Her employer, the Ethan Allen furniture company, expressed concern for her health and praised her work as a designer.
"We all at Ethan Allen are concerned about her welfare," Farooq Kathwari, chairman and chief executive of the company said in a news release. "She is dedicated, talented and is much respected by her peers and her customers."
A man who answered the door at the Chantilly house where Dickerson lives with her husband, Steve, would not comment. The couple married about a year ago.
"She is one of the nicest people you'd ever want to know," said Wayne Williams, a neighbor.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company