A Death on Capitol Hill

Officers shot and killed a woman after she led them on a chase from the White House, setting an already tense city further on edge.
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Emergency personnel on Capitol Hill walk around a police car apparently damaged while pursuing a woman. (Reuters)

This story has been updated throughout.

A chaotic week in Washington took a turn for the violent Thursday afternoon, as police shot and killed a driver near the Capitol in a strange and unexplained incident.

Police said the woman's black sedan tried to get through a security checkpoint near the White House and was stopped. But the driver fled, striking an officer. The car then sped down Pennsylvania Avenue toward Capitol Hill. The driver was confronted by officers near the Capitol and struck a police car before she driver was shot; she was later pronounced dead, but police did not say when or where. Contrary to initial reports, all shots were fired by law-enforcement officers.

A one-year-old child in the car was treated at a hospital and in good condition. A 23-year veteran of the Capitol Police was also injured in a car accident while pursuing the driver. Chief Kim Dine said the officer was "doing well."

Police did not provide any explanation for the incident.

"I'm pretty confident this was not an accident," Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier told reporters about 6:15 p.m. But police also said they did not believe the incident was related to terrorism.

Video from Al-Hurra TV, an Arab-world channel funded by Congress, shows officers with guns drawn around a black car stopped in front of a set of bollards near the Capitol. The car speeds away as police fire at it; the driver zooms around a traffic circle on the west side of the Capitol, then heads away as police cars pursue. Police said shots were fired "at several different locations," but none were fired at or near the White House.

The shooting came amid already-high tensions in Washington, as Congress seeks some way to end the ongoing government shutdown. Many members of Congress and the media who were at and around the Capitol covering the shutdown and debt-ceiling crisis heard the shots and tweeted their experiences and observations. Video and photos showed a heavy emergency presence around the Capitol, including firefighters, police, EMTs, and a helicopter.

The Capitol building was locked down for about a half an hour. As of 3 p.m. or so, the lockdown was lifted. According to a pool report, President Obama was briefed on the shooting. After the House reconvened, members gave police a standing ovation.

Capitol Police are exempt from furloughs under the shutdown, meaning they remain on the job as long as the government is closed. They won't receive pay as long as the shutdown lasts, but will be paid retroactively once the government reopens. In 1998, two Capitol Police officers were killed trying to stop a gunman.

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David A. Graham

David Graham is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Politics Channel. He previously reported for Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and The National.

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