An earlier version of this story misidentified the news outlet that on July 7 first identified Michael L. Byrd, the Capitol Police officer who fatally shot Ashli Babbitt. It was RealClearInvestigations, not RealClearPolitics. The story has been corrected.
“Once we barricaded the doors, we were essentially trapped where we were,” Byrd told “NBC Nightly News” host Lester Holt. “There was no way to retreat. No other way to get out.”
Babbitt was among a group of supporters of President Donald Trump who made their way into the Capitol on Jan. 6 to try to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory. The pro-Trump mob overran the Capitol complex in a violent siege that ultimately resulted in five deaths.
The group Babbitt was with was battering the doors to the Speaker’s Lobby, the hallway outside the House chamber where some lawmakers and House staff members were sheltering, when Babbitt attempted to crawl through a shattered window pane in the doors.
Byrd, who was standing on the far side of the doors, fired a single shot at Babbitt, sending her tumbling backward onto the floor. Babbitt was hit in the shoulder and later died.
“I tried to wait as long as I could,” Byrd told Holt. “I hoped and prayed no one tried to enter through those doors. But their failure to comply required me to take the appropriate action to save the lives of members of Congress and myself and my fellow officers.”
Byrd said he was “very afraid” the day the pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol and continues to be fearful. “I am afraid because I know there’s people that disagree with my actions on January the 6th. But I hope they understand I did my job. And there was imminent threats and danger to the members of Congress,” he said in the interview, a remainder of which was aired on NBC’s “Today” show Friday.
WATCH: Lieutenant Michael Byrd — the U.S. Capitol Police officer who shot and killed Ashli Babbitt while defending the U.S. House chamber during the Capitol attack — speaks out to @LesterHoltNBC in an exclusive interview.— NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt (@NBCNightlyNews) August 27, 2021
Read more: https://t.co/DUeCtm1O83 pic.twitter.com/mvDCzlqU9z
Byrd said it was “impossible” to see what was on the other side of the doors because of furniture stacked on his side of the them, and he did not know Babbitt’s intentions as she started coming through the broken window pane.
“I could not fully see her hands or what was in the backpack or what the intentions are,” Byrd told Holt. “But they had shown violence leading up to that point.”
Without naming Byrd, an internal investigation by the Capitol Police found no wrongdoing by the officer who shot Babbitt, the law enforcement agency announced this week. The probe determined the officer’s use of force was within the department’s guidelines, which allow deadly force only when officers believe they are protecting themselves or others from serious harm.
The finding followed a similar assessment by the Justice Department, which declined to pursue criminal charges against Byrd in April. That investigation found there was not enough evidence to conclude the officer had violated Babbitt’s civil rights and it was reasonable for the officer to believe he was firing in self-defense or defense of members of Congress.
Despite those findings, Babbitt has become something of a martyr to the far right embraced by Trump himself, who called her family to offer his condolences over her death. Trump has in recent months brought Babbitt up in numerous statements and interviews, referring to her as “an innocent, wonderful, incredible woman.”
“Who shot Ashli Babbitt? Why are they keeping that secret?” Trump said on Fox News’s “Sunday Morning Futures” last month. “And there’s no repercussions. If that were on the other side, it would be the biggest story in this country. Who shot Ashli Babbitt? People want to know and why.”
The identity of the officer who killed Babbitt has increasingly been the target of online sleuths as well, and Byrd’s name had been circulating on far-right blogs since early this summer. Conservative activists appeared to identify Byrd in part by zeroing in on a bracelet visible during the shooting that appeared to match one visible on a plainclothes officer earlier that day on the House floor.
On July 7, RealClearInvestigations named Byrd in a story, citing the bracelet, as well as a transcript of a Feb. 25 congressional budget hearing in which the acting House sergeant at arms cited Byrd by name. Conservative activist Charlie Kirk and others pounced on the Byrd story almost immediately in July, leading to hundreds of threatening messages posted online.
In the interview that aired Thursday, Byrd pushed back on accusations that his actions were politically motivated, adding that he had escorted Trump through the Capitol when he was president.
“I do my job for Republican, for Democrat, for White, for Black, red, blue, green,” he said. “I don’t care about your affiliation.”
Byrd, who is Black, said that since his name leaked, he has faced threats, including racist attacks.
“They talked about killing me, cutting off my head,” Byrd said. “It’s all disheartening because I know I was doing my job.”
Byrd was asked if he had a message for the Babbitt family.
“What I would like to say is to all the families from January the 6th, that their family members received injury or loss of life, that my heart goes out to them. I’m sorry for their loss and what they’re dealing with and I pray that they find peace and comfort,” he said.
And he stood by his actions. “I know that day I saved countless lives,” Byrd said. “I know members of Congress, as well as my fellow officers and staff, were in jeopardy and in serious danger. And that’s my job.”
Justin Jouvenal contributed to this report.