How Miriam Carey’s U-turn at a White House checkpoint led to her death


Published on November 26, 2014

“We want to know: Why? What happened?”

So many questions, so much we still don’t know about the case of the woman shot to death by the Secret Service and the U.S. Capitol Police on Oct. 3, 2013, after a car chase from the White House to Capitol Hill. Her 13-month-old daughter survived in a car seat.

“Did we miss something?”

Barbara Nicholson is asking. The office manager of a dental practice in Ardsley, N.Y., is standing in the hygiene room, remembering the woman who used to clean teeth at this chair. Miriam Iris Carey — that was her name. She was one of the best dental hygienists and “one of the nicest people” Nicholson ever hired.

“We’re left with a void and no answers,” Nicholson says. “It’s like she was wiped off the face of the earth.

Nicholson’s voice catches. She pauses and looks away. “She’s missed. She’s very missed.”

Do you remember Miriam Carey? Her remarkably public death at 34 mesmerized us for a couple of news cycles. Then we moved on pretty quickly. I had to look up her name when I first started puzzling over this case. The main thing I remembered was that incredible video — the one showing the two-door black Infiniti surrounded by Secret Service officers with guns drawn near the Capitol Reflecting Pool. The car looks trapped. Suddenly the driver backs into a squad car and accelerates away. There’s the sound of gunfire while tourists take cover on the West Lawn. The Infiniti reappears, making a loop around a traffic circle, and proceeds up Constitution Avenue to what would be the fatal encounter outside the Hart Building.

What an afternoon. We were told that Carey “rammed” White House and Capitol “barriers.” That she tried to breach two security perimeters. That she had mental problems.

District Police Chief Cathy Lanier said federal officers acted “heroically.” The House of Representatives offered a standing ovation.

It was easy to call this a tragedy and turn the page.

Except that some of what little we thought we knew hasn’t held up. The part about ramming White House barriers and trying to breach two security perimeters? Not exactly true.

And how did a supposedly mentally unstable person remain a longtime, reliable and valued employee at two dental practices until the day she was killed? She had a condo and a family and, according to colleagues and relatives, plans for the weekend.

On the other hand, what person ignores commands from officers pointing guns, hits a couple of their cars, and drives on? “We all speculated that she was trying to get her child out of danger, when she was confronted with people with guns, because that’s what she would do,” Nicholson says.

The gunfire — 26 bullets in all — sets the Carey case apart. Shootings by officers on these two forces are rare. White House guards didn’t resort to their weapons in September, when fence-jumper Omar Gonzalez, who had a knife in his pocket, ran far into the executive mansion before being tackled. Carey was unarmed.

“There was no indication she ever had issues,” Nicholson continues. “You couldn’t ask for a more professional person than her. No one ever complained about her, and that’s highly unusual. She was the sweetest person you ever want to know.”

Nicholson looks out the window to the parking lot where Carey used to park the Infiniti. “You could see the [child’s] car seat in the back of that car,” she says.

The leaves are turning gold this afternoon in early October, as they would have been the last time Carey stood at this chair and looked out the window.

After her last patient that Wednesday, Oct. 2, Carey prepared to depart. She usually left by 5 p.m. to pick up her daughter at day care. She lived in Stamford, Conn., 24 miles from Ardsley, 265 miles from Washington.

Her schedule called for her to be off Thursday and Friday, then she was to work at her other dental job in the Bronx on Saturday, and she’d be back here at Advanced Dental of Ardsley on Monday.

“She was absolutely normal,” Nicholson says. “I still remember her standing there, saying, ‘Bye, have a nice weekend. See you on Monday.’ As if nothing.”

There is no public record of her movements or contacts until the following afternoon at 2:13, when she drove up to the Secret Service kiosk at 15th and E streets NW.

“You could see both sides of the story,” Nicholson says. “But I’m sorry. That child does not have a mother because they wanted to handle it their way.”

What happened to Miriam Carey?

What did official investigations tell us?

By the time Carey got to town, Washington was already “on edge,” as more than one commentator would say. Two weeks before, a government contractor named Aaron Alexis had smuggled a sawed-off shotgun into the Washington Navy Yard. He murdered 12 people before being shot to death by D.C. police and U.S. Park Police officers.

Six months after that rampage, the Department of Defense released three reports, totaling 280 pages, by internal and independent investigators who took a critical look at how such a thing could happen. In July, the Metropolitan Police Department issued its own 83-page “After Action Report.”

The sum is 363 pages of narrative, timelines, diagrams and analysis of the attack and response, including recommendations for improvement.

The two incidents are, of course, vastly different in many ways, but in both cases, someone was killed by police. Yet in the Carey shooting, just one document has been shared with the public. Dated July 10, it is titled, “Press Release: U.S. Attorney’s Office Concludes Investigation into the Death of Miriam Carey.” It runs 21/2 pages.

U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr.’s role was to determine whether to charge the officers who fired at Carey with using excessive force in violation of Carey’s rights. Assisted by the Metropolitan Police Department, investigators interviewed more than 60 witnesses and reviewed ballistics reports, the autopsy, video footage and other evidence.

“There is insufficient evidence to pursue federal criminal civil rights or local charges against officers from the U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Capitol Police,” the release said.

Machen’s report offers a tight narrative of Carey’s actions during her last seven minutes — the time elapsed from her arrival at the White House checkpoint to her mortal wounding on Capitol Hill. Absent is any explanation for why officers resorted to deadly force, what threat Carey presented beyond alleged reckless driving, and whether officers followed their agencies’ policies.

Shortly before this story went to press, Machen’s office released one more sentence to The Washington Post: “There is more than sufficient evidence to show that under all of the prevailing circumstances at the time, the officers were acting in defense of themselves and others at the time they fired their weapons.” A spokesman said the office would not detail what that evidence is.

The Secret Service and the Capitol Police have declined to comment since the day of Carey’s death. D.C. Police Chief Lanier declined an interview request, and the city denied a request for the police department’s findings in support of Machen’s report.

At a budget hearing in March, Capitol Police Chief Kim Dine told Congress he could not comment while Machen’s criminal investigation was under way. “These officers are out there every day putting their lives on the line, and they have to make split-second decisions,” he added.

Now, four months after completion of the criminal probe, the department maintains silence about the case, it says, because the Carey family has filed a $150 million wrongful-death civil claim. The Capitol Police officers who discharged their weapons have been returned to active duty while an internal review continues.

The Secret Service, said a spokesman in an e-mail, “is not responding to any inquiries regarding this matter at this time.”

Carey, left, ushers in 2007 on New Year's Eve with sisters Amy, center, and Valarie. A butterfly lands on Carey on a 2007 trip to a conservatory near Niagara Falls. (Courtesy of Valarie Carey)

Who was Miriam Carey?

She grew up in the Pink Houses, a Brooklyn housing project. She was the second youngest of five sisters. Her father was a cook; her mother, a home health aide.

“We all had aspirations to be the best that we could be in our respective fields,” says older sister Valarie Carey, a retired New York police sergeant.

Miriam attended a high school outside the neighborhood where she could study for a health field. She got an associate’s degree from Hostos Community College in 2002 and began working as a dental assistant. Then she earned a bachelor’s from Brooklyn College, qualifying her to pursue a license as a registered dental hygienist.

“It was ‘Miriam I. Carey, RDH,’ ” says Timica Roach, a friend who is a college financial aid counselor. “She wanted to be addressed in that status.”

Miriam had ambitions to go further — to become a dentist or an instructor, or to write a book on the field. She started a placement agency for dental office personnel while working as a hygienist.

Did Miriam Carey have to die?

More than a year after Carey’s death, the answers are unclear.

“She wanted the best in life,” Roach says. “You could tell she was destined to be something.”

“She was full of life, passionate about everything she did,” says Jeannie Marra, office manager at Bronx Dental Implants and Periodontics. Marra remembers the playful hard time Miriam used to give the Listerine rep, arguing that alcohol should not be an ingredient in mouthwash.

Within the family, Miriam was the informal event planner — a baby shower, a trip, says older sister Amy Carey-Jones, a nurse.

One trip they’ll never forget is the excursion to Niagara Falls for Memorial Day 2007. Miriam looks giddy in a blue rain poncho on the Maid of the Mist boat ride to the Horseshoe Falls. At a butterfly conservatory near the falls, everyone was struck at how one landed on Miriam like a blessing.

After renting apartments in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, Carey was ready to buy her own place. In 2010, she found a condo in Stamford for $242,000, in a stately pre-World War II development set around a village green with a gazebo.

Stamford is a prosperous little city just 40 miles from New York, but it seemed a world away to the rest of the family in Brooklyn.

“I’m like, ‘Connecticut! What?’ ” recalls Valarie, who keeps a lighted candle beside a picture of Miriam.

Miriam still visited her mother and sisters nearly every weekend. To stay close to Valarie’s daughter, she would invite Shelby over for dinner and sleepovers.

“When she just moved there,” Shelby says, “it was a birthday weekend of mine. She picked me up, drove to Connecticut, took me shopping, cooked for me. That’s a good memory of mine.”

In Connecticut, Miriam met Eric Francis, who was 21 years older. He owned a heating and air conditioning business in the Hartford area. Valarie thinks they might have met over the computer, “which is so unlike Miriam, but, you know, she was in Connecticut. She wasn’t around us; she was by herself.”

Miriam did not share many details of her relationship with Francis, according to Valarie and Miriam’s colleagues at work. Miriam learned she was pregnant when she was hospitalized after she hurt her back in a bad fall.

Erica’s birth in August 2012, a week after Miriam’s 33rd birthday, opened a chapter of untold joy, and also challenge, for her mother.

Was Miriam Carey mentally ill? (And is that relevant?)

One day in late November 2012, Carey called the Stamford police to report male neighbors loitering outside her window. They had been stalking her for months, she told the 911 operator. “They’re trying to videotape me through my window,” she says on a recording of the call.

The operator said police would be right over, but there is no record of the outcome.

About two weeks later, shortly after midnight on a Monday, Carey locked herself in the bathroom with her daughter and wouldn’t come out, according to a call Francis made to the Stamford police. “It’s been going on for a week now,” he says on the recording. “She needs help.”

The episode was resolved — police records don’t say how — but before noon Francis summoned officers again. “She just went outside and I can’t get her back in,” he tells the emergency operator. “The baby doesn’t have no coat or anything.”

Four officers arrived and found Carey inside the condo, pacing with her daughter, according to the written police report. “She stated that the residence was hers and she wanted Francis removed,” said the report.

Asked why, “she replied it was because Stamford and the state of Connecticut [are] on a security lock down,” the report continued. “She stated that President Obama put Stamford in lockdown after speaking to her because she is the Prophet of Stamford. She further stated that President Obama had put her residence under electronic surveillance and that it was being fed live to all the national news outlets.”

An officer asked to hold the baby. “She replied no it was her Baby.”

Officers “grabbed” her arms, handed the child to Francis and handcuffed Carey. She slipped off the right cuff. “After a brief struggle” she was handcuffed again and transported to a location that is redacted.

Twelve days later, Francis called police before daybreak because he said he had not heard from Carey since the previous afternoon. He wanted to file a missing-persons report. Shortly after officers arrived, Carey returned. She got upset that police were in her condo, then calmed down, and the officers left.

An hour later, Francis again called police. “She needs to go back to the hospital,” he says on the recording. “She was on medication and she didn’t take her medication.”

The police report said officers found baby milk spattered around the apartment and Carey “acting out violently” toward “items” in the condo and Francis.

Officers pried the baby from her hold and gave her to Francis. After Carey was handcuffed, she tried to kick an officer whose colleagues “brought her to the ground,” the report said. She was taken to Stamford Hospital for an evaluation. We don’t know the outcome. Family members declined to share details.

For all their blunt precision, the Stamford police reports can’t explain Carey’s fateful trip, because the last encounter with officers took place more than nine months before events unfolded in the capital.

Miriam Carey's family, from left: sister Valarie Carey, mother Idella Carey and sister Amy Carey-Jones. (Linda Davidson)

Why did Miriam Carey come to Washington?

The moment a possible mental health angle surfaces in a violent episode like this, we’re tempted to conclude that we know the full story.

Just after Carey’s death, her mother, Idella Carey, and sister Amy told reporters that, in the months after Erica’s birth, Miriam informed them that she suffered post-partum depression with psychosis, including a “momentary breakdown” that required hospital care. Amy added that she seemed better after receiving counseling and medication, and was tapering off the medication in accordance with a one-year treatment plan. She was “not delusional,” Amy said.

Reducing the medication for such a condition must be a controlled process, according to experts. Quitting too soon can trigger a relapse.

The U.S. attorney’s report doesn’t address Carey’s mental health because it isn’t relevant to the legal analysis of the officers’ actions, a spokesman said.

That same December of the police visits, Carey brought 4-month-old Erica to the Christmas party at the Bronx dental office, where Carey worked for eight years.

“When she had the baby, she did tell us that she had some post-partum, but she was on medication for that. She was fine,” says Marra, the office manager at the Bronx practice, where patients brought baby gifts for their favorite hygienist. “She wouldn’t be working here if she wasn’t stable.”

Carey’s family contends that the Stamford police files give an incomplete picture and raise more questions. Are the police reports and 911 calls glimpses of an unhinged person? Do they suggest a couple falling apart, a struggling new mother clinging to her child?

“I wasn’t there, but what I do know is that, as a young mother, if you have a mate who is the other part of that child, sometimes a woman needs a break,” says Valarie Carey, who never met Francis. “And for him to call the police because she’s in the bathroom and the baby is crying, that was uncalled for. You’re not capable of soothing a baby, and you have to call the police?”

“One of those calls,” Valarie continues, referring to when Francis said he hadn’t heard from Miriam, “came from the night that my sister was here [in Brooklyn], and she left here late, and then she went home, and he’s calling the police? … He didn’t call my mother. He didn’t call us.”

The relationship between Francis and Miriam was over by summer 2013, and Francis had little further contact with Erica while Miriam was alive, Valarie says.

Francis did not attend Miriam’s funeral, according to her family.

He declined to comment for this story unless offered money. “I’m waiting to hear from someone who’s willing to pay for it,” he said. “Nobody knows the true story of Miriam except me, but it’s not for free.”

Add it all up, and “no one knows why she went to Washington,” Valarie says. “Only Miriam knows.”

Even granting the proposition that she was not in her right mind when she came to Washington, does that make her fate more acceptable?

“I don’t know why Miriam went to D.C. that day,” Valarie says. “But what I do know is that she was killed in D.C. that day. … The emphasis shouldn’t be on why was she there. The emphasis should be what those officers did. Were their actions proper?”

What crime(s) did Miriam Carey commit?

Carey arrives at the Secret Service kiosk at E and 15th. She drives past the kiosk into a restricted area that used to be E Street NW before it was closed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Now only authorized vehicles are permitted.

The White House is not even visible from this outermost perimeter. Someone trying to reach it would have to pass through at least three more. Obama is inside, after a visit to a Rockville construction company.

In the first of three still images the U.S. attorney released from security videos of this encounter, at precisely 2:13:13 p.m., a uniformed Secret Service officer seems to be trying to rap the Infiniti to get Carey’s attention. He and another uniformed officer direct her to stop, according to the U.S. attorney’s report. Carey doesn’t. She makes a U-turn and drives past the kiosk again on her way out.

She is crossing back into public space, at 2:13:30 p.m., when a man not in uniform, wearing a dark short-sleeve shirt, is seen pushing a section of portable fencing against the front of Carey’s Infiniti. At the same time, he’s trying to hang onto what looks like a cooler and a plastic shopping bag.

The man is an off-duty Secret Service officer, according to the report. The U.S. attorney, the Secret Service and the Capitol Police have declined to name any officer involved.

The off-duty officer is not trying to block Carey from entering the restricted area; he is trying to keep her from exiting back onto 15th Street.

According to a tourist bystander quoted at the time, Carey tries to steer around the fence section, but the officer repositions it in front of her. This is the only security barrier Carey ever rams.

The third image (2:13:32 p.m.) shows the off-duty officer tumbling away from the left front of Carey’s car. Officials said at the time that a Secret Service officer was slightly injured but not taken to a hospital. (Later, a Capitol Police officer would be taken to a hospital after his cruiser rammed a pop-up barrier suddenly erected across Constitution Avenue by his colleagues as he was pursuing Carey.)

In recent cases of motorists entering restricted areas, drivers have faced misdemeanor charges. Last May, Mathew Goldstein mistakenly followed the Obama daughters’ motorcade into the pedestrian section of Pennsylvania Avenue. A misdemeanor charge of unlawful entry was dropped.

In September, the day after Omar Gonzalez sprinted into the White House, another man, Kevin Carr, allegedly drove into the same restricted area as Carey did and parked. He, too, was charged with misdemeanor unlawful entry. His case is pending.

Eric Sanders, a civil rights lawyer and retired New York City police officer who is representing the Carey family in the wrongful-death claim, cites D.C. code to argue that an element of the crime of unlawful entry is the refusal to leave, making the act intentional. Carey did not refuse to leave. She refused to stop leaving.

Why didn’t Carey halt at the officers’ direction? Valarie Carey thinks her sister was scared.

“What I see is a plainclothes person, not in uniform, not easily identifiable as law enforcement, who’s in front of her car, leaning against her car in an aggressive way,” she says. “ ‘Who is this crazy man? Let me get away from him.’ ”

“If you’re an officer, I don’t believe that’s in the protocol of how you stop someone,” she adds, referring to her NYPD training. The Secret Service wouldn’t comment. “I don’t think you were trained that way. To take a barrier and place it against somebody’s car while you’re holding a cooler? ‘I’m confused. Who are you?’ ”

Valarie Carey joins family and friends in a protest at the U.S. Capitol grounds a year after Miriam Carey's death. (Linda Davidson)

How fast was Miriam Carey driving?

Carey goes straight across 15th Street onto Pennsylvania Avenue. You could say this route is the most obvious open road from the White House checkpoint, rather than making a hard left or right onto 15th Street. Or you could say this is a straight shot to another high-security piece of architecture: the Capitol.

She arrives at the next scene of action, Garfield Circle, at the foot of the Capitol’s West Lawn, by the Reflecting Pool and the U.S. Botanic Garden.

The U.S. attorney reported that she drove “at speeds estimated [by officers on the scene] at 40-80 mph, while weaving through traffic, and ignoring red lights.”

Garfield Circle is 1.3 miles from the White House checkpoint. The U.S. attorney’s investigation determined that Carey covered the distance in four minutes. If Carey arrived in four minutes, her average speed was 19.5 mph in a 25-mph zone.

What do ubiquitous traffic and security cameras show us?

At 2:17 p.m., news videographer Danny Farkas is on the West Lawn covering a demonstration against the government shutdown. He works for Alhurra TV, funded by the U.S. government to provide news in Arabic.

Suddenly, Farkas hears sirens and, through the viewfinder, sees the black Infiniti pull onto the sidewalk at the foot of the Lawn and stop, its bumper close to the bollards. He zooms in. “I expected to hear someone to come out and yell, ‘Cut!’ ” he recalls.

At least four Secret Service vehicles pull up seconds behind the car. Four uniformed officers leap out and surround the Infiniti, aiming pistols with urgent two-handed grips at the interior. A fifth officer, also taking aim, is wearing plain clothes, with a dark short-sleeve shirt. (The officer with the cooler?)

“Get out of the car!” officers can be heard shouting. Two of them peer through the passenger and driver windows, their faces close to the glass.

“Then she did something you only see in the movies,” Farkas says, referring to the way Carey backed into a cruiser, seemingly to get room to maneuver. “Is that a trained stunt driver in there?”

Carey pulls forward on the sidewalk, forcing an officer to sprint out of the way, and continues between the wall of the Lawn and the tree boxes.

Farkas has to shift position. The camera briefly swings away just as the shots ring out. No shooting can be seen on camera, but the posture of the officers when the camera catches up makes it apparent the shots are fired as the car is departing.

Eight rounds are fired by two Secret Service officers and one Capitol Police officer, according to the U.S. attorney. Investigators “do not believe” any rounds fired at this encounter hit Carey, the U.S. attorney reported, without stating the basis for that belief.

Alhurra’s footage is the only video evidence the public has seen. Capitol Police says it can’t release video of what will be the fatal finale for security reasons. The Secret Service declines to release video of the checkpoint encounter, without explanation.

During the protest, lawyer Eric Sanders reenacts the encounter between Carey and police. (Linda Davidson)

Why did officers open fire?

Police standards prohibit officers from firing at moving vehicles except in rare circumstances.

“To successfully fire at a vehicle, let alone a moving one, is something that only seems to work well in the movies,” observed a D.C. police training manual from the late 1990s.

Police tacticians frown on shooting at moving vehicles because the practice often results in stray bullets spraying public space, speeding cars being turned into unguided missiles if their drivers are incapacitated, or unarmed drivers being killed before questions can be asked.

The “model policy” propounded by the International Association of Chiefs of Police says “firearms shall not be discharged at a moving vehicle unless a person in the vehicle is immediately threatening the officer or another person with deadly force.” The vehicle itself cannot automatically be considered the threat, according to the policy. “An officer threatened by an oncoming vehicle shall move out of its path instead of discharging a firearm at it.”

The D.C. police policy echoes the model: “A moving vehicle is not considered deadly force.”

The Secret Service and the Capitol Police will not disclose their current policies, but past policies give a clue.

A Capitol Police order dated 1989 barred shooting at moving vehicles except to defend against an attack that could cause death or serious injury; or to prevent the escape of a person whom the officer has witnessed commit a felony. A former Capitol Police officer says those principles were still in effect as of several years ago. A 2004 Department of Homeland Security memo to the Secret Service and other enforcement agencies within DHS said “deadly force may not be used solely to prevent the escape of a fleeing suspect.”

Early last month, Capitol Police Chief Dine sent a department-wide bulletin highlighting a recent Supreme Court decision in a case involving local police from Arkansas who fatally shot a driver and passenger just over the border in Tennessee. The driver exceeded 100 mph and posed a deadly threat to motorists, hence officers were justified in firing 15 rounds to stop the driver, the court ruled.

“When the totality of the circumstances indicates that there is a grave risk to public safety … it is advised that it remains reasonable to use deadly force to end that risk,”Dine’s bulletin said.

Dine would not comment for this story, but former Capitol Police chief Terrance Gainer offered thoughts. On the day Carey made her seven-minute drive, Gainer was the Senate sergeant-at-arms.

“We’re very concerned about suicide bombers and vehicle-borne explosive devices,” says Gainer, who now is a senior adviser for Securitas USA. “I felt, even at the time, within an hour or two, as I looked back and saw the films, that the officers were in fear that it could have been a suicide bomber.”

While Gainer agrees that standard police training is not to shoot at moving vehicles, he says the vigilance against bomb attacks within the target zone around the White House, Capitol and Supreme Court complicates the calculus.

“Capitol Police and the Secret Service … do have a different responsibility, different theory and different challenges than one might in a normal police responding to a robbery situation,” Gainer says.

“There’s a combination of [Capitol Police] orders about suicide bombers, improvised explosive devices, communication tactics, use of force,” he says. “It’s not as if you can just pull out one page, memorize it and you’ve got everything covered. It is a very complicated situation for those officers.”

Gainer recalls the White House intruder, at whom Secret Service officers did not open fire. He notes that some commentators have said officers showed too much restraint in that case, and not enough in the Carey case.

“If anything, the analogy between the two should be instructive as to how difficult it is to protect the buildings, the institutions and the people, and make those split-second decisions these guys and gals have to make,” Gainer says.

In response, Sanders, the Carey family’s lawyer, insists that the same constitutional limits on police power hold sway in Washington’s most sensitive zones, just as they do outside the United Nations, the Statue of Liberty, the Golden Gate Bridge — or in the town square of the sleepiest county seat.

“Every place has a right to be policed according to the Constitution,” Sanders says. “The Constitution didn’t change overnight for Washington. … In order for the police to stop you, they have to have a legal basis for it, not ‘This is a different area.’ ”

In his view, officers escalated a wrong turn into a death trap.

“The Constitution says if you use force against someone, you have to have a reason,” he says. “You use force, tell me why.”

Valarie Carey kisses her mother, Idella Carey. (Linda Davidson)

Did the presence of the baby in the car matter?

As closely as officers stared into the two-door car, maybe they didn’t see baby Erica. Maybe they did. Should it have made a difference?

It’s such a natural question, Gainer says. “If one knew there was a child in the car, should one have used deadly force? I’ve spent a lot of time over the years trying to analyze this. … Do you shoot down a plane that you think is going to crash into the World Trade Center knowing that it’s full of passengers? That doesn’t mean do it or don’t do it. Jesus, it just makes it a pretty hard frigging question.

“If a whole set of circumstances are unfolding, and I thought the person was a suicide bomber, and I saw the baby in there, I can tell you I wouldn’t say to myself, ‘Oh, they get a free pass.’ But I would say to myself it would be the most terrible, terrifying decision I’d have to make. But I gotta make it.”

Where is the second perimeter that Carey allegedly tried to breach?

About a minute after leaving Garfield Circle, Carey arrives in the 100 block of Constitution Avenue, between the Hart Building and the Supreme Court, according to the U.S. attorney. The distance is 0.7 miles, including a loop she makes around Peace Circle. So her average speed is about 42 mph.

She travels on public streets. Since leaving the White House checkpoint, she never attempts to cross another restricted security perimeter.

Capitol Police raises embedded mechanical barriers across Constitution at Second Street NE, blocking Carey’s departure from the Capitol zone. She makes a U-turn across a curbed median, as if to return down Constitution. But in that direction are a Supreme Court police vehicle, which she hits, and officers approaching with guns drawn. She shifts into reverse, backing toward Second Street again, away from the Capitol and the Supreme Court. A Capitol Police officer on foot has to scramble out of her path.

That officer and a Secret Service officer now fire nine rounds each at the car. The Infiniti comes to rest back upon the median, next to a Capitol Police kiosk. It’s 2:20 p.m., seven minutes after she arrived at the White House checkpoint.

The rear windshield is demolished. Carey is unconscious, according to the U.S. attorney. A Capitol Police officer pulls out the baby, who is wearing a bright yellow jacket over a pink shirt and has small ponytails.

The Secret Service officer who fired nine rounds here also fired an unspecified share of the eight rounds discharged at Garfield Circle.

Carey is pronounced dead at a hospital at 3:08 p.m. There is no trace of illegal drugs or alcohol in her system. (The toxicology report did not test for some prescription drugs.) She has been struck by five rounds — three times in the back, once in the left arm, once in the left side of the head.

Idella Carey releases a butterfly in her daughter's memory. (Linda Davidson)

What is Erica’s future?

Ella Francis, Eric’s mother, answers the door one afternoon in late August at the rented house in Windsor, Conn., where she is staying with her son and granddaughter. Erica is at day care, and Eric is working, she says.

In the living room before a flat-screen television is the crib where Erica sleeps. Toddler clothes are folded on a couch.

The 2-year-old is beginning to recognize letters, says the grandmother. “She’s very attached to her daddy.”

“I met her once,” Ella says of Miriam. “She cooked so well. She was a good girl.”

She shakes her head and adds: “What saved that baby that day?”

Francis has custody of his daughter. A Superior Court judge in Stamford denied the Carey family’s request for temporary custody to allow Erica to attend her mother’s funeral. But the judge was sympathetic, as Valarie and Idella, Erica’s other grandmother, explained that child and grandmother were accustomed to spending time together on weekends. They are sure Miriam would have wanted her daughter to grow up knowing her family.

The judge asked the parties to work out a visiting schedule. The visits, in public places in Connecticut, have been sporadic, according to the Carey family. Early this month, for the first time in several months, Idella saw her granddaughter.

“It was good for my mom to see how much Erica has grown,” Valarie says. “Erica was still familiar with my mom. Being able to spend time with Erica is like spending time with Miriam.”

“Why Was Miriam Carey Killed?”

A bus from Brooklyn pulls into Garfield Circle early on a Friday afternoon last month, the first anniversary. Nearly 40 family members and supporters descend and take up positions in long rows at the foot of the West Lawn.

The Capitol is behind them as they face the bollards where Carey was surrounded by the Secret Service. Idella Carey holds a sign that says, “Miriam Carey Was A Person.” Valarie Carey’s sign asks, “Why Was Miriam Carey Killed?”

Others hold similar posters displaying pictures of smiling Miriam. As the minutes add up to more than half an hour, no one says a word. The only sound is the breeze in the trees.

At 2:15 p.m. — one year to the minute after Carey was en route down Pennsylvania Avenue — the group chants her name: Miriam Carey. Miriam Carey. Miriam Carey. Miriam Carey. Miriam Carey.

Five times for the five bullets that struck her.

Idella Carey opens a little box printed with her daughter’s name and releases a monarch butterfly, reminiscent of the one that landed on her in Niagara Falls. Others release more butterflies. One drifts down and settles on a poster with Carey’s picture.

The visitors from Brooklyn walk the route that Carey took to the Hart Building. They are struck by how small-scale and intimate the geography is, and how it’s all public space, despite the proximity of so many secure offices and institutions.

They contemplate the grassy median where the bullet-riddled Infiniti came to rest. One in the group sings a gospel song a cappella.

Pray on just a little while longer
And everything gonna be all right.

The hush of the procession spreads to passing tourists, who read the signs and whisper:

“Who is Miriam Carey?”

David Montgomery is a Washington Post staff writer. Staff researchers Magda Jean-Louis and Eddy Palanzo contributed to this report. To comment on this story, e-mail or visit

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