- The Washington Times - Friday, May 26, 2006

A congressman who mistook construction noise for the sound of gunfire in the garage of a congressional office building prompted a four-hour lockdown of a section of the Capitol complex yesterday.

U.S. Capitol Police ordered members of Congress and staffers to stay put, as tactical units swept through the Rayburn House Office Building in a room-by-room search for a possible gunman. The Capitol was briefly closed twice.

The call reporting the gunshots was placed at about 10:30 a.m. from the office of Rep. H. James Saxton, New Jersey Republican who is chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee.

Greg Keeley, a spokesman for Mr. Saxton, said the congressman heard the sounds while he was in the garage yesterday morning.

“Mr. Saxton was trying to grab something out of his car. He heard … between six and 10 loud, sharp cracks, which he identified as being potential gunfire,” Mr. Keeley said. “He immediately returned to the office and [his] staff informed Capitol Police of what the congressman had heard.”

Mr. Keeley said the congressman “has been around firearms an awful lot” and “knows what a gunshot sounds like.”

Capitol Police spokeswoman Sgt. Kimberly Schneider said that police think the noises Mr. Saxton heard came from tools being used by construction workers in the area of the elevators

“During their routine duties they made some sort of noise that sounded like shots fired,” she said. Sgt. Schneider said officers were not certain what tool made the noise or what work was being done in the garage, but there were reports that one of the tools being used was a pneumatic hammer.

She said authorities acted promptly and appropriately.

“It was a valid call,” she said. “The information received is sufficient enough to warrant the actions. … We wasted no time getting to the Rayburn building and taking the proper precautions.”

Capitol Police notified congressional staff members in the Rayburn building about the incident through an intercom bulletin shortly after the incident was reported.

“It just said there were reports of gunfire in the garage and from now on till you hear from us stay where you are, stay in the space you’re in,” said Phil Sunderland, chief of staff for Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat.

Rep. Bill Delahunt, Massachusetts Democrat, said he was on his way out of the building and to the airport when the notification came. He said one of his staffers was leaving the parking garage in order to pick up the congressman when Capitol Police ordered him back inside the building.

Mr. Delahunt, who was allowed to leave the building at about 3 p.m. after his offices were searched, said Capitol Police handled the incident “extremely well.”

“I think Capitol Police have acted very professionally and prudently,” he said.

During the investigation, police were also looking into unconfirmed reports of a man seen carrying a gun in the Rayburn gym, which is located in the basement of the building.

Rep. Jack Kingston, Georgia Republican, said one of his staffers was in the gym at the time of the incident and was taken to a hospital. A statement said the woman was not hurt, “just a little shaken up under the circumstances.”

The Capitol building was reopened within an hour of the reports of gunfire, then sealed off by police, and eventually opened to the public again about 12:30 p.m. Independence Avenue in front of the Rayburn building was closed until about 3:15 p.m., when the Rayburn building was reopened.

The Rayburn building covers about 2.4 million square feet and is bounded by Independence Avenue and South Capitol, First and C streets in Southwest.

It houses the offices of 169 representatives and has four stories above ground, two basements and three levels of underground garage space.


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