Washington – A motorist rammed a vehicle into US Capitol police yesterday and brandished a knife, killing one officer and injuring another and forcing the Capitol complex to lock down in an attack that police said did not immediately appear to be terrorism-related.
Police responded by firing on the suspect, who died.
Yogananda Pittman, acting chief of the US Capitol Police, told a news conference that the suspect drove into the officers, then hit a barricade and got out of the car, lunging at them with a knife in his hand.
“It is with a very, very heavy heart that I announce one of our officers has succumbed to his injuries,” she said, her voice choked with emotion.
The other officer was injured, she said.
The Capitol Police later identified the slain officer as William “Billy” Evans, an 18-year veteran of the force.
“It does not appear to be terrorism-related but obviously we’ll continue to investigate,” said Robert Contee, acting chief of the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington.
President Joe Biden said he was heartbroken by the attack and ordered flags at the White House be lowered to half-staff. In a statement, he said he was being briefed on the investigation.
The Washington Post, citing anonymous sources familiar with the investigation, named the suspect as Noah Green and reported that one of its sources said Green had an address in Virginia.
Police said the suspect was unknown to them, they had yet to determine what had motivated him, and they did not identify him.
“Clearly this was someone who was actively trying to just get at whoever or whatever ― we just don’t know right now,” Contee said. “Whether the attack was at law enforcement, or whoever, we have a responsibility to get to the bottom of it and we’ll do that.”
Dozens of police cars, marked and unmarked, raced toward the iconic domed white building, in an unwelcome reminder of January 6, when thousands of supporters of then-President Donald Trump overran the complex.
It was the worst security threat at the Capitol since then.
US spy agencies warned in mid-March of an ongoing threat that racially motivated violent extremists, such as white supremacists, will carry out mass-casualty attacks on civilians while militia groups target police and government personnel and buildings.
Roads leading to the complex were blocked by police cars or officers and people inside the Capitol were told to stay away from windows for much of the afternoon before police announced that the lockdown had been lifted.
Videos and photographs from the scene showed a blue car rammed into a security barricade, a front door open.
There were few people at the Capitol. Members of Congress were not in Washington yesterday, with both the Senate and House of Representatives in recess for the Easter holiday.
Dozens of National Guard troops, who have been stationed at the Capitol since the January attack, quickly deployed. Heavily armed and in riot gear, they jogged in columns to stand in rows at the scene and around the complex.
Authorities have begun only in the past couple of weeks to remove the outer ring of high, razor-wire-topped fencing erected around the sprawling Capitol complex after the January 6 rampage. Many of the thousands of National Guard troops posted at the building in January had also been sent home.
Lawmakers have been arguing about how much security should remain on Capitol Hill, which is a popular park for city residents as well as the seat of government. Members of Congress from both political parties have introduced legislation to make it illegal to erect permanent fencing around the building.
The January 6 assault took place while the House of Representatives and Senate, with the Senate presided over by then-Vice President Mike Pence, was certifying Biden’s November election victory over the Republican Trump.
At the time Trump’s supporters shouted slogans including “Stop the Steal” and “Hang Mike Pence” as they attacked the Capitol and said they hoped to stop the election certification.
Biden, a Democrat, took office on January 20.
“This has been an extremely difficult time for US Capitol Police after the events of January 6 and now the events that have occurred here today. So I ask that you keep our US Capitol Police family in your thoughts and prayers,” Pittman said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who ordered flags at the Capitol to be lowered to half-staff, hailed Evans as “a martyr for our democracy.”
“Congress stands ready to assist law enforcement with a swift and comprehensive investigation into this heinous attack,” Pelosi said in a statement. ― Reuters