Police secure the area around the U.S. Capitol after a shooting in Washington October 3, 2013. The U.S. Capitol was locked down briefly on Thursday after gunshots were fired outside the building following a car chase across central Washington and a number of people including a law enforcement officer were hurt, officials said. Yuri Gripas/Reuters
The woman who drove her car into a barricade near the White House on Thursday and led police on a chase across central Washington was shot and killed by law enforcement agents near the U.S. Capitol, the city's police chief said.
The woman was pronounced dead at the scene, according to Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier.
"The suspect in the vehicle … was struck by gunfire and at this point has been pronounced [dead]," said Lanier during a Thursday evening news conference.
She has been identified as Miriam Carey, 34, of Stamford, Conn., according to law enforcement authorities who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to divulge the information publicly.
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Stamford Mayor Michael Pavia said the FBI was executing a search warrant at a Stamford address in connection with the investigation. Police officers had cordoned off a condominium building and the surrounding neighbourhood in the shoreline city.
A young child — who is approximately one year old, and believed to be Carey's daughter — was in the car throughout the incident. She is in good condition and now in protective custody, say officials.
Michael McCaul, the chairman of the House of Representatives homeland security committee, told CNN he had heard from "multiple sources" that the suspect — he did not refer to Carey by name — "may have had some mental health issues."
"Obviously the way she responded at the gate near the White House and then turning around and hitting Secret Service," he said.
A Secret Service agent and a police officer were injured during the mid-afternoon car chase through Washington. The first was struck by the suspect's car outside the White House, the latter hit a barricade with his car during the chase.
"Fortunately, both of them will be OK," said Lanier.
Officials have released few other details about the incident or the investigation.
But the incident, they said, appears to have been isolated — not an act of terrorism nor an accident.
"This does not appear in any way to be an accident," Lanier told reporters. "This was a lengthy pursuit. There were multiple vehicles that were rammed."
No shots were fired at the White House, though there was gunfire "in at least two locations during the pursuit," according to Lanier.
The pursuit began when a black Infiniti with Connecticut plates sped onto the driveway leading to the White House, over a set of lowered barricades. When the car couldn't get through a second barrier, the driver spun the car in the opposite direction, flipping a Secret Service officer over the hood of the car as she sped away, said B.J. Campbell, a visiting tourist.
A fleet of police and Secret Service cars chased the car toward Capitol Hill.
"The car was trying to get away. But it was going over the median and over the curb," said Matthew Coursen, who was on his way to a legislative office building when the car sped by him. "The car got boxed in and that's when I saw an officer of some kind draw his weapon and fire shots into the car."
Witnesses said at least 20 police cars chased the car toward Capitol Hill, where the car crashed outside the Capitol.
Tourist Edmund Ofori-Attah said he walked toward the scene, curious about what was going on.
"Then I heard the gunfire" and hit the ground, he said.
The incident rattled Washington just three weeks after a government contractor opened fire at the Washington Navy Yard, about 2.4 kilometres from the Capitol, killing 12 people and wounding three others before he was shot to death by police.
'We were really scared'
Giancarlo Refalo, a tourist from Malta, said he heard two or three gunshots, and revving engines.
“We saw this black car being chased by three or four police cars.… We ran for cover and as we were hiding behind some bushes we heard this big bang. I guess it must have been a tire blowing out or a crash, and suddenly police cars and emergency vehicles appeared from everywhere," Refalo said.
"We were really scared. I've never heard shots before in my life."
"We heard three, four, five pops," said Sen. Bob Casey, who was walking from the Capitol to an office building across the street. Police ordered Casey and nearby tourists to crouch behind a car for protection, then hustled everyone into the Capitol.
"There were multiple shots fired and the air was filled with gunpowder," said Berin Szoka, whose office at a technology think tank overlooks the shooting scene.
Before the disruption, lawmakers had been trying to find common ground to end a government shutdown. The House had just finished approving legislation aimed at partly lifting the government shutdown by paying National Guard and Reserve members.
People standing outside the Supreme Court across the street from Congress were hurried into the court building by authorities.
The White House also was briefly locked down after the incident at Capitol Hill and the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the compound was closed to pedestrians. Secret Service said the procedures were precautionary.
Peter Polcki, a furloughed federal government worker, was wandering around near the Supreme Court when he said he heard the “pop, pop, pop of gunshots.”
Polcki believes four or five shots rang out. He described seeing a dark two-door car, but he could not see who was inside.
"It's like the Navy Yard all over again," he said.