A Shooting, a Rallying at Capitol
After Friday's shooting, visitors pour in, embracing access to the 'People's House'
WASHINGTON — As the country grapples with the jarring shooting in Washington, strong resistance is already emerging to creating a bunker mentality in the nation's capital.
While a security review is under way, congressional leaders and the president are balking at building more barricades in a city already among the most protected in the world.
As if to underscore that the running of democracy won't be disrupted, thousands of tourists filed up the Capitol steps this weekend to snap their usual shots of the Rotunda - undaunted by the deadly shooting spree of a lone gunman on Friday.
With the sun glinting off the imposing dome and the air sweet from the scent of boxwood, people laid flowers at the foot of the Capitol steps. For many, the violence turned out to be a reminder of all the good things for which the capital stands, including openness.
"I know it sounds very corny, but it is the symbol of the American ideal of government," says Akiko Dasilva, a college student visiting from Berkeley, Calif. "I think that it's very powerful that the very next day they allowed people to come and visit it."
The House of Representatives will be mostly quiet today. The only order of business: a resolution to permit the use of the capitol for a memorial service for the two officers slain in the shootout. (A tourist who was wounded in the incident has been released from the hospital.) Then there will be tributes - and the continuing procession of visitors. "This is the people's house, the people's building, and we shouldn't give in to terrorists," said House majority whip Tom DeLay, choked with emotion on Saturday afternoon.
Quick return to 'normalcy'
The Capitol reopened within 17 hours of the shooting. On the surface, things appeared pretty much as normal. Joggers hustled by people walking their dogs and gaggles of meandering tourists.
But the police presence appeared stronger than normal. Flags were flying at half mast. And the bundles of flowers, laid at the foot of the Capitol steps, were a somber reminder of 18-year veterans Officer Jacob Chestnut and Special Agent John Gibson, who died putting themselves directly in the line of fire to protect others.
"It feels like somebody in my community got killed, and I never thought anything like that could happen here," says Fairlie Benson. She grew up and still lives a few blocks away. She passes by every morning on her way to work, and frequently walks her dogs here. "There's not a day that goes by that I don't marvel at how beautiful and public it is, and I think that's great," she says.
She does not want it to change, but it may. Right now, the Capitol Police, the Metropolitan Police, and the FBI are focusing on the investigation into Friday's shooting. Russell Weston Jr., who was wounded in the shootout and remains in critical condition in a Washington hospital, has been charged with murder in the incident.
According to police accounts, Mr. Weston burst by a metal detector at the Document Room door of the Capitol and opened fire. Police say he then chased a screaming woman down the hall before being wounded in a shootout with Capitol Police inside the office of the majority whip.
Officials are being tight-lipped about the possible motives and other details of the shooting. But Russell is described as a loner from Montana who had a history of instability. A former mental patient, he ranted at satellite dishes and was convinced the government was spying on him.
Once the investigation is done and the funerals and memorials services over, then will come the "critical incident" review.
It is a standard forensic procedure that follows attacks against federal buildings at home or abroad. The findings are used to determine whether breaches in security occurred and to recommend further precautions.
"Certainly at the appropriate time ... we'll determine if we should take additional measures or not," says Sgt. Dan Nichols, the Capitol Police spokesman.
But many security experts and police believe little if anything more could have been to stop Weston.
"This person was ... bent on getting in, there was nothing that could stop him," says a former Capitol Police officer, who didn't want her name used. She'd dropped by the Capitol to talk with her old friends, and to get the addresses of the slain officers families to send cards.
Her opinion is supported by others. "Security worked as intended .... they can look back proudly and say this guy didn't make it in," says John Horn, a managing director at Kroll-O'Gara Inc., an international-security firm. "I would like to believe the effect of this is there will be no effect."
Still, the incident has renewed talk about building a separate visitors center to screen people before they enter the building. Others think simpler precautions can be taken.
"Metal detectors should be outside the building," says Dorothy Brizill, a local community activist who advocates more scrutiny of the security procedures at the Capitol.
While security has been significantly tightened in recent years, with increased police, metal detectors, and barricades to prevent car bombers, Americans in general have resisted a bunker mentality.
Even in Oklahoma City, in the wake of the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building - the worst terrorist attack on US soil - residents tried to overreacting.
"We have not locked down city hall ... we still operate the city for the benefit of the citizens," said Oklahoma Mayor Ron Norick, during a recent anniversary of the bombing.
And that's what many people here waiting in line in the hot sun to tour the Capitol would like to see prevail at the "people's house."
"It represents our country," says seventh-grader Steven Douglas from Woodbury, N. J. "I think of everybody who fights for us and our state, our senators, and representatives, and the laws. It's like a symbol of our country."