IT IS immeasurably sad that a 34-year-old mother is dead after a harrowing chase with police on Capitol Hill. Whether her death could have been avoided is another issue, one that must be answered as authorities investigate both her intentions and their response to her actions.

Miriam Carey, a Connecticut woman who reportedly was battling mental health issues, was unarmed when she was fatally shot by police Thursday afternoon. Her 1-year-old daughter was in the car as it crashed security barriers and was pursued at high speeds by police; the child was unharmed. Inevitably, the question arises of whether it was necessary for the Secret Service and Capitol Police who had chased her car to kill her.

The Metropolitan Police Department, heading a joint investigation with federal agencies, must determine the precise circumstances surrounding her death before it can conclude if the shooting was justified.

Any assessment should not lose sight of the frightening facts of this woman’s actions, much of them captured on video. She drove her car into a White House security post; she hit a uniformed officer; she led police on a high-speed chase through D.C. streets; she rammed a Secret Service vehicle; she didn’t stop when at least five officers had their guns pointed at her; and she penetrated a barrier on Capitol Hill. Another inevitable question arises: What would have happened if she had not been stopped?

“The threat to our officers and the complex was real,” Senate Sergeant at Arms Terrance W. Gainer wrote Friday to the Senate community in an assessment with which there can and should be no dispute.

It is easy to forget that in the real time of doing their jobs — which is to protect the president, Congress and the public — police had no way of knowing with what or with whom they were dealing. That is why it is important to be careful before second-guessing what authorities could have or should have done Thursday.