Legislative intern recalls shooting at Capitol

by Kane Loukas

At 10 a.m. today, U.S. Capitol Officer Jacob J. Chestnut’s funeral procession will leave Fort Washington on its way to Arlington National Cemetery. Chestnut will be laid to rest with Detective John M. Gibson, who was interred there yesterday. Both men were gunned down while on duty at the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., one week ago.
For Sarah Afshar, 19, a junior in the Carlson School of Management now interning in Washington, the shooting is only slowly fading from her memory.
“The Capitol itself is so symbolic of freedom and democracy,” Afshar said, calling from her apartment two blocks south of the Capitol Building. “I think everyone there had felt that a piece of them had been violated.”
Afshar works as an intern for Sen. Jim Ramstad, R-Minn. in the Cannon House Office building, directly across Independence Avenue from the Capitol. From her desk she sits only a few hundred yards from where the shooting occurred.
At 3:40 p.m. on July 24, Russell Eugene Weston Jr. stormed through the Document Room Door security point, one of several entrances in the House of Representatives. He pointed his .38-caliber handgun at Officer Chestnut and fired, striking him in the back of the head and killing him instantly. Weston then made his way toward Majority Whip Tom DeLay’s office, where Detective Gibson confronted him.
Though Afshar couldn’t hear the shots, the impact in Ramstad’s office was immediate. “Suddenly, the whole office was basically glued to the television,” Afshar said. “It was hard to really continue with our work. It was scary to know that these faces we saw everyday were at risk.”
“The oddest thing was walking home after it happened,” she said while explaining how she couldn’t take her usual route home across the capitol because of the crowds of reporters and onlookers. “A lot of the people were just standing and watching. They weren’t saying a whole lot. They were just waiting to make sense of the whole ordeal.”
At about the same time Afshar walked to her apartment, Ramstad was making his way through the Capitol corridors which, since the shooting an hour earlier, had grown unusually silent. The scene outside of DeLay’s office was “reminiscent of a war zone,” said Ramstad as he described the blood and the cartridge casings that remained on the marble floors.
“At first it was surrealistic that this could happen; that we lost two of our finest police officers as well as two great friends,” said Ramstad. “It was one of the most emotionally charged experiences of my lifetime.”