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The March 28 Capitol Hill shooting: on and off the record

| Monday, April 4, 2016

Whether you are on campus or abroad, whether you get your news from Buzzfeed, Twitter, The Washington Post or The New York Times, on March 28, you probably heard that there was a shooting in Washington, D.C.

I happened to be working inside the newsroom of CBS News, located only 20 minutes away from Capitol Hill, when the incident happened. Inside the newsroom, there are television screens live streaming footage of the Hill from every camera angle, computers monitoring the news coverage of every major media outlet and dozens of elite journalists updating the situation from the D.C. Police Department, the White House and the Senate Office Buildings. At the same time, my friend was inside in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, getting ready to lead a tour. Inside the Visitor Center, there were hundreds of people waiting to admire the glamour of the nation’s legislature center, kids with beautiful dreams and innocent laughter, and dozens of staffers just doing their jobs.

Here is an honest account of what happened on the afternoon of March 28, both in the newsroom, according to my observation, and inside the Visitor Center, according to my friend’s. While my observation was on the record, reported out to an audience of more than 50 million, and archived into history, my friend’s account was off the record and was known to no more than a thousand people.

2:32 p.m.

ON THE RECORD: The gunshot was fired, as reported later by D.C. Police.

OFF THE RECORD: I was waiting for my tour group to exit the North Theater and was looking down at my phone to research a fact about the Capitol. I heard the doors burst open on the Senate side and saw one police officer come out shouting; then, about five seconds later, five or six more police officers came out of the same doors and were in a hurry. That’s when I started running to hide, and one of the Capitol staff told me to stay in the corner.

2:45 p.m.

ON THE RECORD: CBS Newsroom staff saw the first Twitter post on the shooting, which was posted four minutes ago. Staff in the newsroom started to call everybody they know, including senators, Capitol Hill staffers and members of the D.C. Police Department, to confirm the news. By 2:50 p.m., the news was confirmed and reported out. Breaking news: Shooting on Capitol Hill.

OFF THE RECORD: For a while, I just sat in a corner alone, but then police officers started asking people to stay down. Next thing I know, I am surrounded by kids and their families, and I could recognize some one or two other interns.

2:52 p.m.

ON THE RECORD: “House alert: The Capitol complex is locked down. A police officer tells me this is not a drill.” –CBS Capitol Hill producer. The bureau sends the first correspondent to the Hill.

OFF THE RECORD: Everything happened so quickly. I looked around for a second and saw that two mothers were hugging their daughters. One of them had tears running down her face and appeared to be mumbling words. Four people were holding hands and praying. I repeated to the two little girls in front of me that everything was going to be okay, as I noticed her mom was breathing heavily.

3:02 p.m.

ON THE RECORD: During the White House daily briefing, reporters surrounded Josh Earnest, the White House Press Secretary. He said since he has been briefing through the reports, he can’t comment.

OFF THE RECORD: When they announced that we must all shelter in place and that shots were reported at the CVC, I think I started to tear up, because I did not know what to do or what was going on. I thought about calling my family, but did not want to worry them.

 3:19 p.m.

ON THE RECORD: CBS News set up live reporting on Constitution Avenue.

OFF THE RECORD: One of the little girls asked her mom, “Mom, are we going to die?” The dad of the little girl then told his wife that, if anything were to happen, she has to run with the girls.

3:20 p.m.

ON THE RECORD: Evening News producer reported that the D.C. Police Department claimed the incident at the US Capitol Hill was an isolated one. There is no active threat to the public. Three minutes later, Radio Correspondent got the official word from Capitol Police: “The suspect was in custody.”

OFF THE RECORD: A group right across from us started clapping, so I took that as good news, but I continued to tear up.

3:24 p.m.

ON THE RECORD: Special Event producer reported: “’Shelter in place’ lifted by U.S. Capitol Police. People are being released out of the Capitol.”

OFF THE RECORD: With all that’s been going on, and the recent terrorist attack in Brussels, the fear intensified in us all, I felt.

The things that were on the record were later ingested and then archived into history. And so when all the sirens stopped screaming and the Capitol complex reopened on the next day, this is the last update of the Capitol Hill shooting:

ON THE RECORD: On March 28, 2016, in Washington, D.C., around 2:30pm, a man pulled out a handgun and aimed at a police officer. A U.S. Capitol Police officer opened fire and wounded the man before he could get a shot. A female civilian bystander was injured. There was no fatality reported. The suspect’s name is Larry Dawson and is now in custody.


The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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