Police charge Capitol suspect Spokesman says shooter acted alone in slaying of two Hill officers

Building reopens yesterday

July 26, 1998|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Police yesterday charged Russell E. Weston Jr. with the murder of federal officers, a capital crime, in the shooting spree Friday at the U.S. Capitol that left two police officers dead and a tourist wounded.

One day after an eruption of violence that jolted Washingtonians and tourists alike, law enforcement and political leaders sought to restore a measure of calm. A somber Capitol opened to visitors yesterday. And President Clinton declared that Americans should honor the sacrifices made by the two slain police officers.

"The shooting at the United States Capitol yesterday was a moment of savagery at the front door of American civilization," Clinton said. "That majestic marble building is the symbol of our democracy and the embodiment of our nation."

House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican whose aide was one of the two men killed, praised both officers. "They were real heroes -- American heroes," DeLay said. "They did their duty. They stood their ground. Both families need our support and our prayers as they try to make sense of" what happened.

Weston, 41, who was shot in an exchange with federal officers, was listed in critical condition at D.C. General Hospital. Doctors gave him a 50 percent chance of survival.

The injured tourist, 24-year-old Angela Dickerson of Chantilly, Va., was released yesterday after receivingtreatment for gunshot wounds to the shoulder and face.

Suspect a low-risk threat

An FBI complaint filed in federal district court here accuses Weston of killing both officers. He could face additional federal charges, officials said, and Justice Department officials were considering whether to pursue the death penalty. A police spokesman stressed yesterday that Weston had been a lone gunman.

Weston, whose home is near Helena, Mont., had been on a list of people who pose a low-risk threat to Clinton. People who know Weston told reporters that he was convinced that federal officials were plotting to track his movements.

According to the Associated Press, Weston came to the attention of the Secret Service after acquaintances reported hearing him complain about the government and the CIA. Weston insisted that federal officials had planted land mines on his Montana property. Some of his complaints were directed at specific officials, including Clinton, though law enforcement officials described them more as rantings than actual threats.

Weston had been treated at a psychiatric hospital, and a Montana neighbor told reporters that he would become irrational whenever he stopped taking his medicine.

Weston, who was shot repeatedly by officers trying to stop him, underwent surgery Friday night and again yesterday, doctors said.

"We are still concerned that he will have problems with his heart and lungs in coming days and weeks," said Dr. Norma Smalls of D.C. General Hospital, adding that Weston is hooked up to a respirator and is unable to speak.

'There was pandemonium'

Police, lawmakers, House aides and eyewitnesses have offered various accounts, sometimes conflicting, of Friday's events, but the episode came into slightly sharper focus yesterday.

According to the statements, Weston entered a first-floor doorway of the Capitol, closer to the House side. As Capitol Police Officer Jacob Chestnut, who who had become suspicious of Weston, approached, Weston shot him at nearly point-blank range. Chestnut's partner drew his gun and exchanged shots with Weston, who darted around a corner. The partner's identity has not been released.

The shots echoed through the Capitol building and were heard by John Gibson, an 18-year police veteran on assignment to DeLay's staff. Gibson had been sitting in a private reception area leading to DeLay's personal suite of offices. About 25 lawmakers and Republican aides were celebrating a legislative victory there when the shots rang out, scattering hundreds of tourists and employees throughout the building and causing intense panic in DeLay's offices.

"There was pandemonium," said John Feehery, DeLay's communications director.

Gibson hollered at a 22-year-old staffer to duck under a desk, and he unholstered his weapon. Others, including DeLay, were hustled into a rear bathroom. A French tourist ran into the reception area, and Gibson pushed her out of danger. Encountering each other, Weston and Gibson traded fire. Both men were wounded, Gibson mortally.

Another officer stood over Weston with a gun at his head, said Tony Rudy, DeLay's chief counsel. Weston, unconscious from wounds to his chest and leg, did not respond to demands that he roll over, so the officer flipped him over by his belt.

Two DeLay assistants, flushed with fear, told others they heard a third round of gunshots, though police believe them to have been mistaken.

DeLay not a target

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