CAPITOL HILL — In the midst of bitter budget debate over funding the federal government, Washington police officials say a car tried to ram a White House barricade and was chased by police cars toward the U.S. Capitol building. Reports say the female driver of the car injured a police officer in the crash and that police fired guns at her.
On day three of a government shutdown triggered by political deadlock, debate in the U..S. Capitol was temporarily shut down by a security scare. The Capitol and all House and Senate office buildings went into lockdown after shots were fired outside the Capitol. Democratic Congressman Gerald Connolly told VOA he was shaken up by the incident.
"Well I was actually on the balcony when the shots were fired. So we heard them quite distinctly. Initially we were thinking, it must be, someone was lighting off fireworks, not firecrackers, because it was too loud, but then it was quite clear they were gunshots," said Connolly.
AlHurra TV video of car chase on Capitol Hill:
Frank Schwing, a furloughed federal worker, watched the police stop the car. He spoke to VOA's Indonesian Service.
"They stopped the car, opened the door. They had their guns drawn and asked him to get out. Quickly he backed up, he smashed into one of the police cars and spun around and took off again. That's when there were probably a dozen shots fired," said Schwing.
The investigation is ongoing, but reports say a woman in a car rammed a security gate at the White House, and then drove to the U.S. Capitol with police pursuing her. She crashed into a Capitol Police car, injuring an officer. It is not clear whether the woman fired shots, but police fired shots at her. There are also reports she had a child in the car. It is not clear why the woman rammed the White House and hit the police officer.
Capitol Hill Police Chief Kim Dine says the White House and the Capitol are secure.
"We have no information that this is related to terror or is anything other than an isolated incident," said Dine.
Some House members had to shelter in the House chamber during the incident. Congressman Connolly said members did not know exactly what was going on.
"You know, initially, it is so surreal. You think, it is gunfire on the Capitol grounds," he said. "You know my thought was, I was not afraid, but my thought was, I am looking at these tourists and citizens and I am thinking, 'I hope they are going to be safe.'"
Congressional staffers are used to security drills, but it was clear that this was perceived as a real threat.
The House, led by Republicans, has now resumed votes on individual measures to fund parts of the government. The Democratic-controlled Senate rejects those measures. The political battle has gone on for weeks and on Tuesday, much of the federal government shutdown or reduced operations because Congress has not passed a funding bill.