Gunman kills 2 in Capitol One officer tried to stop man at door, other exchanged fire

Suspect, tourist wounded

Recluse from Midwest reportedly has history of threatening officials

Shooting In The Capitol

July 25, 1998|By David Folkenflik and David L. Greene | David Folkenflik and David L. Greene,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON SUN STAFF WRITERS TOM BOWMAN AND TANOAH MORGAN AND THE ASSOCIATED PRESS CONTRIBUTED TO THIS ARTICLE. — WASHINGTON -- In an explosion of bullets that marked the first fatal violence in the Capitol in more than a century, a gunman shot his way yesterday into the historic heart of the building, leaving two police officers dead and a tourist wounded.

The assailant, who was also wounded in the incident, entered the building through a first-floor tourist entrance, evaded a metal detector and shot a guard who tried to stop him. Then, finding his way into the center of the building blocked by another officer who shot at him, the gunman fled through a door into the House Majority Whip's private suite of offices.

There, he shot a plainclothes officer and was ultimately brought down by police gunfire, officials said.

Police identified the suspect last night as Russell E. Weston Jr., 41, a sometime resident of Valmeyer, Ill., and Montana, who reportedly had a history of making threats against the president and other officials. As of 11: 15 last night, no charges had been filed.

He was listed in stable condition at D.C. General Hospital, after Sen. Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican and cardiac surgeon -- in another of the day's extraordinary events -- applied emergency medical procedures to keep the man breathing on the way to the hospital.

The dead police officers were identified as Jacob Chestnut, 58, of Fort Washington, the uniformed officer at the door, an 18-year veteran of the Capitol force; and John Gibson, 42, of Virginia, an eight-year veteran, who was serving as a plainclothes driver and guard for House Republican Whip Tom DeLay.

Stable condition

The wounded tourist was identified as Angela Dickerson, 24, who was reported in stable condition last night at George Washington University Hospital. It was unclear who had shot Dickerson, or exactly where that shooting occurred.

The bloody drama erupted about 3: 40 p.m., while the House was still in session for end-of-the-day speeches, and hundreds of tourists were milling about the building, one of the nation's oldest and most popular museums.

At the sound of shots -- up to 20, by some accounts -- tourists and building employees threw themselves to the floor or fled in panic. All over the Capitol, guards were herding lawmakers and their staffs into their offices and out of harm's way.

"It was a tough day for the Capitol Hill Police, a tough day for the Congress and not a good day for the United States," said Sgt. Dan Nichols, the Capitol Hill Police spokesman, who spent much of the afternoon briefing reporters every half-hour.

Not long after the helicopters and ambulances left the Capitol grounds, the three flags atop of the building were lowered to half-staff out of respect for the dead policemen.

Russell E. Weston Sr., 66, of Valmeyer, interviewed last night by the Miami Herald, told the newspaper that his son had few friends and drifted between Illinois and a Montana plot of land where he mined for gold.

His father said Weston claimed the government had planted land mines on that land.

Multiple wounds

Police said Weston sustained multiple gunshot wounds, including some to the chest. But his life may have been saved by Sen. Frist, who rushed from his office to the Capitol to offer his services after he heard people had been shot.

Frist said he first worked on one of the police officers, applying CPR to resuscitate and stabilize him. Then he went to work on Weston, applying mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and rode with him to the hospital.

Asked later if he was aware that he was working on the suspect, Frist said: "I was really just focused on keeping their heart and lungs going."

President Clinton and members of Congress, many shaken and some near tears, rushed to express their horror at the incident and their gratitude to the slain officers for their heroism.

"The Capitol is the people's house, a place where visitors and workers should not have to fear violence," said Clinton, who phoned House Speaker Newt Gingrich from Camp David to express his condolences. "Every American appreciates the bravery of the Capitol Police that prevented further injury through their courageous actions."

For Majority Whip DeLay, who was in his office during the fatal exchange of gunfire outside the door, the sacrifice of the officers who provided an effective security shield -- for Congress if not for themselves -- was especially poignant.

"John gave his life to protect me and the members of my staff," DeLay said in a statement issued after he learned of the death of Gibson, whom he said he thought of as a member of his family. "There is no doubt that if John had not acted quickly and with great bravery as he did, others would have been killed. I cannot express the depth of my sorrow for this loss."

Familiar face, ready smile

Those who pass daily through the Capitol corridors also mourned the loss of Chestnut, who was a familiar face with a ready smile.

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