Washington (AFP) – Shots rang out outside the U.S. Capitol building as police intercepted a speeding driver Thursday, sending lawmakers and tourists scattering for cover and triggering a massive security operation.
Police said the car’s driver had attempted to get past a barrier outside the White House, just over a mile away, and she was then pursued across downtown Washington, eventually being cornered by police.
Amateur footage obtained by broadcasters showed a black car boxed in at close range by gun-bearing officers near the Capitol building, but the driver executed a sharp U-turn and sped away in an apparent bid to escape.
The car was stopped soon afterwards and a child was said to be inside.
“There was a vehicle in the vicinity of the White House that apparently attempted to pass a barricade,” Capitol Police chief Kim Dine said after a briefly instituted security lockdown was lifted.
“That vehicle was attempted to be stopped by Secret Service, uniformed division,” he told reporters, referring to the federal agency charged with protecting the presidency.
“Shots were potentially fired. They pursued the vehicle. The vehicle came, struck one of our vehicles here,” Dine said. “We have no information that this is related to terrorism or is anything other than an isolated incident.”
There was no official word on the condition of the suspect, although several media outlets reported that she was dead.
Dine, other officials and witnesses said the driver was believed to be a woman and that there was also a child in the car.
One witness, 21-year-old student David Loewenberg, said he was in his basement apartment near the Capitol, which houses lawmakers, when he heard “a succession of seven or eight gun shots” and rushed outside.
“I could make out a black car that had either run up on the side of the curb or crashed,” he told AFP.
Loewenberg saw a police officer leaving the scene “hugging” a child in his arms. “It was a girl as far as I could tell,” he said. “The child was taken away pretty quickly by the police officer.”
The incident was the second major security breach in the US capital in less than three weeks. On September 16 a deranged gunman stormed the nearby Navy Yard and killed 12 people.
Thursday’s scare also came several days into a US government shutdown, shattering the previous focus on Washington’s political gridlock.
An AFP photographer saw at least one person receiving emergency medical assistance on the north side of the Capitol complex. Police said one officer was hurt in the crash.
Senators told reporters that they had heard up to six shots while police sealed off the building and emergency vehicles converged at the scene.
“There was a female involved. There was a high speed chase by the police, involving a female, on Pennsylvania Avenue. There were shots fired,” a government official told AFP.
A police car was left badly damaged by what appeared to be a collision on Constitution Avenue, immediately outside the Capitol, and a group of tourists were escorted inside.
About half an hour after the incident began, the security lockdown at the Capitol was eased and the doors reopened. There were unconfirmed reports that the shooter was in custody.
Outside the Dirksen office building, which houses senators’ offices, staff members not sent home by the shutdown could be seen taking cover behind trees and vehicles.
The White House was also briefly placed in lockdown, with Secret Service agents in tactical gear deploying around the building. The security alert was later partially lifted.
Matthew Jacobs, a 26-year-old tourist from Wellington, New Zealand, was on a bicycle near the White House when the incident began.
He said he saw “some car try to get through a barrier. Rammed through it, bowled someone over and took off.”