The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Capitol Police officer who was on duty during the riot has died by suicide, his family says

Capitol Police officer Howard Liebengood fingerprints Gabriel Ayoud, 8, during “Kid Safety Day,” held in the Dirksen Senate Office Building in 2008. (Tom Williams/AP)

U.S. Capitol Police officer Howard Liebengood — the son and namesake of a former Senate Sergeant-at-Arms, lobbyist and Hill staffer — took his own life on Saturday, days after a mob breached the Capitol, a spokesman for his family said Monday.

Liebengood, 51, who went by “Howie,” had been an officer guarding the Capitol since 2005. The agency did not list a cause of when it announced Liebengood’s death, but a spokesman for the family confirmed Monday that he died by suicide and had been on duty at the Capitol on Wednesday.

“His death is a tragedy that has deprived all of us a dedicated public servant,” Barry Pollack, a lawyer representing the Liebengood family, said in a statement. “His family has suffered a devastating loss and asks that they be given space to grieve in private.”

Pollack said that Liebengood is survived by his wife and siblings.

Liebengood, who grew up in Fairfax County and was a race car driver before joining the police force, was assigned to the Senate Division. A former co-worker said he often worked at the Delaware entrance of the Russell Senate Office Building — his favorite posting.

His death was the second of a Capitol Police officer in the span of a week: On Wednesday, Officer Brian D. Sicknick died of injuries sustained while fighting off the “Stop the Steal” mob that had breached the Capitol while lawmakers were certifying the presidential vote.

Four civilians also died in the confrontation — one shot by a police officer and three in medical emergencies — and dozens of officers were beaten and injured.

“We are reeling from the death of Officer Liebengood,” Gus Papathanasiou, head of the Capitol Police union, said in a statement on Sunday. “Officer Liebengood was an example of the selfless service that is the hallmark of USCP.”

A statement Sunday from the Capitol Police says: “Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, friends, and colleagues.”

Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick protected with a kind touch

The White House lowered its flag to half-staff on Jan. 10 to honor U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian D. Sicknick and off-duty officer Howard “Howie” Liebengood. (Video: The Washington Post)

On Sunday, President Trump ordered flags lowered to half-staff in honor of both Sicknick and Liebengood. Scores of officers lined up outside the Capitol and saluted as a hearse carrying Sicknick’s remains passed by.

On social media, there was a fresh outpouring of grief. Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) posted on Twitter that she was “deeply saddened” over the death of Liebengood, who was her constituent.

“Officer Liebengood served with USCP for 15 years, continuing a family tradition of protecting the U.S. Senate,” she wrote. “My heart breaks for his family, his loved ones, & our community.”

Former senator and secretary of state John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) called the deaths of Sicknick and Liebengood “a tragic loss of two patriots who spent their careers protecting the halls of democracy.”

Friends described Liebengood as humble and reserved, and said he shared a love of racecar driving with his late father, as well as a pull toward the halls of the Capitol.

Charlie Ostlund, 70, taught Liebengood at James Madison High School in Vienna, Va., in the 1980s, and was his wrestling coach. He remembered Liebengood as a team player who often surprised opponents with his strength and physical talent.

Ostlund said the younger Liebengood looked up to his father, Howard S. Liebengood Sr., who served from 1981 to 1983 as Senate sergeant at arms, charged with ensuring security in the Capitol and Senate buildings, as well as protecting members of the Senate.

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In a 2003 interview with a motorsports website, the younger Liebengood said his parents were his biggest inspiration. My father “has accomplished so much in his professional career in government and the political arena,” he said at the time. “If I could accomplish an [eighth] of what he has accomplished, I would be very proud . . . he is my hero!”

Liebengood told his interviewer he was involved in the National Campaign to Stop Violence, an effort aimed at middle-schoolers.

“He was a great student and great kid,” Ostlund said. “This is just so, so sad.”

Liebengood Sr. left his post as sergeant at arms to become a lobbyist, eventually starting his own firm with another former Hill staffer. In 2001, he returned to Capitol Hill as chief of staff to his longtime friend, Sen. Fred D. Thompson (R-Tenn.), and later to then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.). He died of a heart attack on Jan. 13, 2005, two weeks shy of his planned retirement.

On the Senate floor after his death, Frist said the elder Liebengood “loved the Senate,” according to a 2005 transcript. “He loved the purpose of this institution; he loved its tradition; and, above all, he loved its people. The Senate was his extended family.”

A classmate and wrestling teammate of the younger Liebengood, Stu Wilkinson, said his friend’s relationship with Washington’s political elite dates back to their childhood — though he didn’t brag about it.

He recalled a school trip to the White House in the 1980s, when Secret Service officers took Liebengood aside to have him speak with then-Senate Majority Leader Howard Henry Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.).

“Here comes Senator Baker shaking Howie’s hand,” Wilkinson said. “[Liebengood] was so humble. . . . None of us had any clue how they knew each other.”

Wilkinson said that when he saw news reports of the Capitol riots on Wednesday, his mind went straight to Liebengood. He scanned the television footage, hoping his friend was all right. “He was an outstanding guy,” Wilkinson said. “A quiet, silent leader.”

Bill Beck, 80, was a close friend of Liebengood Sr. who watched his son grow up. At the Capitol, he said Sunday, both men strove to engage lawmakers and staffers regardless of political party.

On the day of the Capitol attack, Beck said, he emailed the younger Liebengood to see how he was doing. He didn’t hear the news of his death until Sunday.

“I knew him his whole life. He was a good human being,” Beck said. “After everything, this is just . . . it’s tragic.”

Carol D. Leonnig and Julie Tate contributed to this report.

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255). You can also text a crisis counselor by messaging the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

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