Senator Chris Murphy’s staff members were conducting their business on a Thursday afternoon when police officers opened fire in Washington, D.C. after a high-speed chase involving a black car with Connecticut license plates that was driven by a Stamford woman.
“We heard the shots,” said Ben Marter, Murphy’s chief spokesman. “It happened right outside our office. We’re on the third floor of the Hart Building. We’re right around the corner from Constitution [Avenue], where the car ended up.’’
Staff members jumped up and immediately looked out the windows, where they could see the Capitol Police responding where the gun shots had been fired.
“It was that close. We were right there,” Marter said. “It was hard to tell because there’s construction going on between Hart and the Supreme Court. We initially thought it was construction noise because it was Boom! Boom! Boom! in rapid succession.’’
During a chase across Washington that started near the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue and ended near the U.S. Capitol, a woman had been driving a black Infiniti sedan with Connecticut license plates. Various reports were that the car had been registered in Stamford. Police were still investigating the woman’s identity and the circumstances of the incident Thursday.
She was identified in multiple media reports as Miriam Carey, a 34-year-old Stamford woman who had a young child in the car with her. A spokeswoman for Congressman Jim Himes, a Greenwich Democrat who represents Stamford, declined to make any immediate comment.
Stamford police were searching a condominium complex at 114 Woodside Green on Thursday evening in connection with the incident. The complex is off busy Washington Boulevard and near Scalzi Park in an area north of Interstate 95.
Murphy himself was not in his office at the moment and did not hear the shots. But the staff did.
“We all heard it,” Marter said. “The Senator was just off the Senate floor in the cloak room, right outside the Senate floor. They told the members they were in lockdown, so he stayed in the Senate chamber.’’
After attending “active shooter” training drills by the U.S. Capitol Police, Murphy’s staff was better prepared for the incident.
“The staff here all gathered together in the middle of the office,” Marter said. “There was an instantaneous alert system. All of our cell phones flashed an instant message. Everybody gets the same alert.’’
Before the gun shots, it was not simply just another day at the office. The federal government is partially shut down because of a funding dispute in Congress over President Obama’s healthcare law, and only about one-third of Murphy’s 36 staff members in Washington, D.C. and Connecticut have been working this week.
At the time of the shooting, there were about nine staffers in the Washington office, and those in the offices along the wall could hear the shots.
“We were going about our business,” Marter said. “The Senator had been on the floor speaking, earlier this afternoon. He was due to come back. He stayed in the Senate chamber.’’
They received a “shelter in place order – close all the blinds, lock all the doors and gather in the innermost place in the office,’’ he said.
“We heard the shots. We looked out the window and saw the Capitol police responding immediately,” Marter said.
U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said that the Senate went into recess shortly after word of the shootings spread.
“I was on the floor of the Senate at the time, speaking with a number of my colleagues when one of the Senators rushed into the chamber and said there has been a shooting’’ and that “a capitol policeman has been injured.’’
“We were barred from going back to our office,” he said. “Everyone in the office was told to stay away from the windows. … All the offices were locked down. No one could leave their individual offices.”
Blumenthal said that his staff members did not hear the gun shots.
“It seems to be a very isolated incident involving one person who seems to have been extremely troubled, acting in an extraordinarily bizarre, even deranged matter, raising the possibility of mental illness,” Blumenthal said.
“The lockdown is over and we are back to relative normalcy,” he said. “The folks in our office were pretty shaken. We have allowed our interns to go home. We’ve encouraged them to talk to friends or relatives.’’
U.S. Rep. Joseph Courtney did not hear the shots because he was in his office on the other end of the Capitol complex.
“I was in the Rayburn Building on the other side of the campus,” Courtney said. “We had just had a delegation conference call on Sikorsky with the undersecretary of Defense when the squawk box blared out the warning that there had been a shooting. We had people outside the office and they came scurrying in.”
He added, “This place is on edge right now. We had a shooting at the Navy Yard, which is really close to the Capitol. And tensions are high with the shutdown.’’
Prompted by the partial shutdown of the federal government that was into its third day, fewer people are in the Capitol complex.
“In general, the population is lower,” Courtney said. “The House office buildings, the cafeterias, some of the offices with civilian federal employees are shuttered. The number of people is less than a regular business day, but the House is in session. It’s still crowded around here. Even though the tourists are being denied access to the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress, it’s still crowded.’’
After the lockdown was lifted, the House went back into session as if nothing had happened outside.