If the government shutdown was not enough to cause chaos and uncertainty, a car chase and gun shots provided even more confusion in the nation's capital this past Thursday. Members of Congress and their staffers along with passersby were forced into buildings and a place to hide until more was known and the area was safe. Included in that group were New Jersey lawmakers. The climax of the series of events would occur outside of the U.S. Capitol after a police chase from the White House. The driver of the erratic vehicle would ultimately be shot and killed by the Capitol Police.
In the wake of the incident, some members of New Jersey's congressional delegation would provide feedback and firsthand accounts.
Congressman Donald Payne Jr (D-NJ10) was coming off the U.S. House chamber floor and was about to head back to his office when developments took place.
I was on my way out of the building and another member of Congress stopped me as I got to the door and said the Capitol Police are asking us to stay inside because there were shots fired, and within the next three minutes they had an official lockdown of the capital.
Payne was gathered with roughly 30 of his colleagues during the lockdown period.
An aide to Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ12) would also comment that:
Rep. Holt and his entire staff was in his office. The House holds shelter-in-place drills a few times a year, so we followed familiar procedures: basically just locking the doors and moving away from windows.
Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) was on his way back to his office much like Congressman Payne when shots were heard.
As Menendez would describe,
As I walked through the audible alarms went off. They told staffers and lawmakers to 'lock the doors to stay in place until further notice'.
Two visitors coming to see Menendez would tell him what they saw. He would add,
There was a car that seemed to smash into a barrier. They started to hear gunfire and they ran into the building.
Payne would also add,
I just headed the warnings of the Capitol Police, and went to a Democratic waiting area, and we just watched CNN to get an idea what was going on. I was a bit surprised that it was happening. I wouldn't say startled. There was a young lady that came running back into the building who had heard the shots, and she was a bit startled, and so we attempted to calm her down.
Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ6) was in his office during the ordeal when he was alerted to stay put.
As Pallone would state,
They (his staff) were instructed to stay away from the windows. Our entire office has windows that look at the Capitol. As we were getting information about the incident, we were monitoring it closely. The guys and the women who are our Capitol police, I think, in many ways are underrated, they do a great job, they look out for congressmen and the staff. I was very concerned that the police officer was injured and that might happen to others. They're out front there dealing with the people.
It was talked about a little during the day, but about a decade and half ago a couple members of the Capitol Police were shot in an incident. Local law enforcement and those on the U.S. Capitol stepped up and managed a very hectic situation. Luckily, the situation was contained and members of Congress and their staffs as well as police and anyone else in the area were unharmed.