A police officer and a suspect were dead on Friday after the suspect rammed a vehicle into two US Capitol police officers outside Congress in Washington, then lunged at others with a knife.
The suspect was shot. Two officers were taken to hospital. Police named the officer who died as William “Billy” Evans, an 18-year veteran of the department.
The incident happened just after 1pm. Amid initial confusion, the Capitol was placed on lockdown, with staff told to “seek cover” amid reports of an “external security threat”. One congressional reporter posted to social media dramatic video of a helicopter landing outside the east front of the building.
At a briefing, Yogananda Pittman, acting chief of the Capitol police, said she spoke “with a heavy heart”.
“The suspect rammed his car into two of our officers,” she said, “then hit the North Barricade barrier. That suspect exited the vehicle with a knife in hand. Our officers then engaged that suspect.
“He did not respond to verbal commands. The suspect did start lunging toward US Capitol police officers, at which time US Capitol police officers fired upon the suspect. The suspect has been pronounced deceased.”
“Two US Capitol police officers were transported to two different hospitals, and it is with a very, very heavy heart that I announce one of our officers has succumbed to his injuries.”
In a subsequent statement, Pittman said: “It is with profound sadness that I share the news of the passing of Officer William ‘Billy’ Evans this afternoon.”
Evans started work for the Capitol police in 2003, she said, and was a member of the first responders’ unit.
The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, ordered flags at the Capitol to be flown at half-staff, in recognition of the fallen officer. Her Democratic counterpart in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, said: “I’m heartbroken for the officer killed today defending our Capitol and for his family. We’re in their debt.”
From the Camp David retreat in Maryland, Joe Biden ordered the flag at the White House to be flown a half-staff too.
“I have been receiving ongoing briefings from my homeland security adviser and will be getting further updates as the investigation proceeds,” the president said. “I want to express the nation’s gratitude to the Capitol police … and others who quickly responded to this attack. [We] mourn the loss of yet another courageous Capitol police officer.”
Kamala Harris said Evans had “made the ultimate sacrifice” on behalf of the American people.
Congresswoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming, a member of Republican leadership, tweeted her condolences.
Even after the lockdown at the Capitol was lifted at around 3.30pm, congressional staffers were still being told to stay in buildings and not go outside.
“The external security threat located at all of the US Capitol campus buildings has been neutralized but [Capitol police are] continuing to investigate out of an abundance of caution and there is still no entry or exit permitted at this time,” read a police advisory. “You may move about within the buildings and underground between buildings. If you are outside, seek cover.”
The Capitol has been on heightened security alert since 6 January, when supporters of Donald Trump stormed the building in an attempt to overturn his election defeat. Five people died as a direct result of the attack, one of them a Capitol police officer who confronted rioters.
Some of the security fencing put up after the attack has recently been removed.
Pittman “asked that the public continue to keep US Capitol police and their families in your prayers. This has been an extremely difficult time for US Capitol police, after the events of 6 January and now the events that have occurred here today.”
On Friday, USCP said Constitution Avenue between Second Street NE and First Street NW and First Street between Constitution Avenue NE and Independence Avenue SE were closed to traffic.
National guard members were filmed marching into the Capitol.
Law enforcement officials identified the suspect as 25-year-old Noah Green. Investigators were still digging into his background and examining whether he had a history of mental health issues as they tried to discern a motive. They were working to obtain warrants to access his online accounts.
Pittman said the suspect did not appear to have been on the police’s radar. But the attack underscored that the building and campus and the officers charged with protecting them remain potential targets for violence.
Green described himself as a follower of the Nation of Islam and its controversial founder, Louis Farrakhan, and spoke of going through a difficult time during which he leaned on his faith, according to recent messages posted online that have since been taken down. The messages were captured by the group Site, which tracks online activity.
“To be honest these past few years have been tough, and these past few months have been tougher,” he wrote. “I have been tried with some of the biggest, unimaginable tests in my life. I am currently now unemployed after I left my job partly due to afflictions, but ultimately, in search of a spiritual journey.”
Rob Contee, the acting chief of the Metropolitan police, said at a briefing that there did not appear to be a link to terrorism or a threat to any member of Congress, or any ongoing threat to the Capitol or the neighbourhood around it.
The House and Senate are not in session but some elected officials and staff were in the building on Friday. Ro Khanna, a Democratic representative from California, spoke to CNN from his car, where he said officers had told him to go after he came back to the Capitol from going out for lunch.
“It’s really sad,” he said. “Once the barriers were removed we were moving back to some sense of normalcy, but this just shows the level of risk there still is.
“I can’t imagine saying that going to the United States Capitol to represent your constituents is actually a dangerous thing.”
Contee said: “Whether the attack was at law enforcement or whoever, we have a responsibility to get to the bottom of and we’ll do that.”
Gabrielle Canon and the Associated Press contributed reporting