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Capitol Police Officer Dies After Being Assaulted By Extremists In Siege

Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday and quickly overran unprepared Capitol Police on the scene. Lawmakers and other staffers had to be evacuated after rioters breached the building.
Olivier Douliery
AFP via Getty Images
Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday and quickly overran unprepared Capitol Police on the scene. Lawmakers and other staffers had to be evacuated after rioters breached the building.

A murder case has been opened. The acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia also says sedition is among the charges that could be considered against those who participated in the violence.

Updated at 7:59 p.m. ET

A Capitol Hill police officer who was assaulted in Wednesday's riot by violent protesters loyal to President Trump has died, a source familiar with the matter tells NPR's Carrie Johnson.

The Department of Justice is opening a federal murder case into the death of the office, the source said.

More than 50 criminal cases are being opened against others who engaged in violence during the breach of the U.S. Capitol.

The extremists attacked police "with metal pipes, discharged chemical irritants, and took up other weapons against our officers," Capitol Police said Thursday.

Also Thursday, in a call with reporters, Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Michael Sherwin didn't have full details yet but didn't rule out charges of rioting, insurrection and seditious conspiracy.

Forty local cases had been filed with the Superior Court of D.C. concerning entry to the Capitol, assault and possessing a firearm.

On the federal level, 15 cases have been filed against individuals accused of illegally entering the Capitol, possessing a firearm or stealing congressional property.

One individual was said to have been carrying a semi-automatic rifle and 11 Molotov cocktails upon arrest.

Sherwin said theft of congressional property could impact national security.

"Electronic items were stolen from senators' offices. Documents, materials were stolen and we have to identify what was done, mitigate that, and it could have potential national security equities," Sherwin said.

"If there was damage, we don't know the extent of that yet," he added.

Sherwin also said he could not provide information on who was responsible for the two improvised explosive devices that were found at the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee headquarters, adding both incidents are being investigated.

Also Thursday, U.S. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy announced that a "7-foot nonscalable fence" is being erected around the entire U.S. Capitol. It is to remain in place for at least the next 30 days, he said.Additional National Guard units are also being deployed, he added.

Deaths, injuries and arrests

D.C. officials say four people died in the storming of the Capitol, including the woman who was shot inside the building by a Capitol Police officer. Dozens of police officers were injured while trying to control the mob President Trump supporters who temporarily shut down a vote to certify President-elect Joe Biden's win.

In addition to the officer and the woman who was shot, three people — two men in their 50s and one woman in her 30s — died after separate medical emergencies, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and D.C. Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee said during a news conference.

Contee said 56 officers were injured, describing "a lot of valiant fighting" to perform their duties despite facing tear gas and other hazards. One officer, he said, was "snatched into a crowd" where he was beaten and tased repeatedly.

City police officers arrested 70 people on charges related to unrest from Wednesday through 7 a.m. Thursday, Washington's Metropolitan Police Department said. Most of those arrests were for violating curfew, with many also facing charges of unlawful entry.

Assigning responsibility

The scenes of chaos Wednesday afternoon, as a Trump rally devolved into unrest and insurrection, left the country shaken and the nation's capital on alert.

Bowser blamed the violence on Trump, calling him an "unhinged president" who has peddled baseless conspiracy theories.

Bowser and other Democrats called for thetop security officials at the Capitolto resign. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund handed in his resignation, effective next week.

When Bowser was asked about the breakdown of the Capitol Police's security effort, she didn't mince words.

"Obviously, it was a failure, or you would not have had police lines breached and people enter the Capitol building by breaking windows," she said, "and terrorizing the people, the members of Congress who were doing a very sacred constitutional requirement of their jobs. So clearly, there was failure there."

White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany called the violence appalling and said a violent group had ruined the First Amendment rights of thousands.

Other parts of the investigation

The violence wasn't directed solely at the U.S. Capitol building. Police also responded to reports of suspicious packages discovered on Capitol grounds and in other areas of the city. Two pipe bombs left at the Republican National Committee headquarters and the Democratic National Committee headquarters were discovered by police and safely detonated, police said.

In a car on Capitol grounds, law enforcement found a cooler full of gasoline bombs and a long gun, Contee told reporters.

The FBI confirmed to NPR that the agency is involved in ongoing investigations and said, "Two suspected explosive devices were rendered safe by the FBI and our law enforcement partners."

Police and security response

The entire D.C. National Guard has been mobilized. By this weekend, McCarthy said, a total of 6,200 National Guard members will be in place to support police and security efforts.

On the morning after the insurrection, Contee said, police officers were "scouring" area hotels in hopes of identifying and arresting people seen in the plentiful videos that have emerged from the Capitol.

At least four people were arrested for carrying a pistol without a license and having a large capacity ammunition feeding device, including one instance of possessing a firearm on Capitol grounds. Those arrested are from across the country, including North Carolina, Michigan, Arizona Georgia, Pennsylvania and Oregon.

Contee said not all people who gained entry into the Capitol building were taken into custody.

Videos taken of the chaos appeared to show, at best, an unprepared police force easily overrun by rioters or, at worst, one that appeared to acquiesce to the mob. Unverified videos shared on social media showed a police officer taking selfies with some rioters who entered the Capitol, and another appeared to show officers moving barricades to allow a large crowd of people to approach the building.

Rioters damaged the U.S. Capitol building after they breached security and entered the building during a session of Congress on Wednesday.
Olivier Douliery / AFP via Getty Images
AFP via Getty Images
Rioters damaged the U.S. Capitol building after they breached security and entered the building during a session of Congress on Wednesday.

Capitol Police officers, which usually number around 2,300, have jurisdiction over Congress and its grounds. According to D.C. law, Metropolitan Police can only make arrests on Capitol grounds with the consent or at the request of Capitol Police.

Lawmakers have promised a full investigation into the Capitol Police's actions.

California Democrat Rep. Zoe Lofgren, chairwoman of the House Administration Committee, said the breach "raises grave security concerns." She said her committee would work with bipartisan House and Senate leadership to address concerns and review the response in the coming days.

The FBI has set up a tip line website for information tied to the riots. The agency said it's seeking information to "assist in identifying individuals who are actively instigating violence in Washington, D.C."

Political repercussions

Hours after Trump's supporters laid siege to an entire branch of government with the apparent aim of keeping him in office in defiance of results of the Nov. 3 election, the president issued a statement early Thursday morning that conceded "there will be an orderly transition on January 20th."

However, that promise came too late for several top advisers at the White House, who resigned, citing the president's response to the siege as the reason for their departure — with less than two weeks to go in their jobs.

Stephanie Grisham, the chief of staff for first lady Melania Trump, submitted her resignation effective immediately. As did White House social secretary Anna Cristina Niceta and White House press aide Sarah Matthews.

Deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger reportedly also resigned Wednesday, according to Bloomberg News.

Some lawmakers, including Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., have called for Trump's impeachment for his "open sedition."

That effort is unlikely to gain enough support to be done before Biden's inauguration on Jan. 20.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jaclyn Diaz
Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
Elena Moore
Elena Moore is a production assistant for the NPR Politics Podcast. She also fills in as a reporter for the NewsDesk. Moore previously worked as a production assistant for Morning Edition. During the 2020 presidential campaign, she worked for the Washington Desk as an editorial assistant, doing both research and reporting. Before coming to NPR, Moore worked at NBC News. She is a graduate of The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and is originally and proudly from Brooklyn, N.Y.