- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 30, 2003

A congressional aide who slipped through a security checkpoint yesterday with a bag that had a toy gun for a Halloween costume inside sent Capitol Hill into a lockdown as officers carrying assault rifles searched the area for about three hours.

U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer said the woman, who was not identified, entered the Cannon House Office Building off Independence Avenue at about 1:10 p.m.

Chief Gainer couldn’t say for certain whether two or three officers were on duty at the entrance. He said one was searching a visitor and another was giving information to another visitor. By the time the officers noticed the image of the gun as the bag passed through the X-ray machine, the woman was gone.

The woman and a female companion who entered the building with her are staffers for Rep. John Shimkus, Illinois Republican, though police initially issued a lookout for a male suspect.

Congressional sources said the woman with the toy gun planned to dress as CIA agent Sidney Bristow on the ABC-TV action series “Alias.”

Chief Gainer said it was unlikely that charges would be filed against the staffers.

“It could be illegal to bring a toy gun in here, but it would depend on the intent,” he said. “I don’t think they had any ill intent. I don’t think anybody was trying to fool anybody.”

Mr. Shimkus issued a statement last night saying he “deeply regretted” the incident.

“This was an unfortunate misunderstanding, a result of my staff’s efforts to put together Halloween costumes during their lunch hour,” he said in the statement. “Given initial reports of a male intruder, my staffers were not aware of their involvement. When the description of the female was released, they came forward.”

Chief Gainer said members of Congress and their staffs were notified about the security breach by fax, pager and radio-alert system.

Police prohibited anyone from entering the building and told employees they could leave only if they consented to a search.

Officers, including a heavily armed Containment and Emergency Response Team, fanned out and searched for the suspect.

Police realized by about 2:30 p.m. that the threat was unfounded and concluded the search.

However, some members of Congress were upset with the way the incident unfolded.

“It doesn’t matter,” said Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, New York Democrat, after she left her first-floor office in the Cannon building. “We just found out today that our notification for the safety of the people in this building doesn’t work.”

Mrs. McCarthy said she was in a meeting with constituents when she first heard of the lockdown. She said she received a call from her district office to see whether the staff was OK.

Mrs. McCarthy held up her personal pager before reporters, displaying the text of a message sent at 2:13 p.m. — nearly an hour after the incident occurred — advising members of the situation.

Rep. Bob Ney, Ohio Republican and chairman of the House Administration Committee, and Rep. John B. Larson of Connecticut, the committee’s ranking Democrat, lost no time in calling for an investigation.

“This incident will be looked at second-by-second and frame-by-frame to determine how this happened and how it was responded to,” Mr. Ney and Mr. Larson said in a joint statement issued last night. “If mistakes were made, and at this point it appears there were, then those responsible will be held accountable.”

Chief Gainer said his staff had conducted a meeting yesterday morning in which they addressed the concern that items moved through metal detectors too fast for officers to determine what they were. He said one option to prevent such incidents is to slow down conveyor belts so officers can make more thorough examinations.

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