Police shoot man wielding 'pellet gun' at US Capitol

A police officer guarding the perimeter of the US Capitol building after the shooting at its visitor centre on Monday.
A police officer guarding the perimeter of the US Capitol building after the shooting at its visitor centre on Monday.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • Police have shot a man who pointed a gun at them in a screening area just outside the US Capitol, briefly unnerving the city a week after the bombings in Brussels.

The incident took place in the Capitol Visitor Centre, according to law enforcement officials, forcing an hour-long lockdown. The suspect, Larry Dawson, 66, of Tennessee, was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he had surgery, officials said. He was in stable but critical condition, Capitol Police said.

Police believe the weapon may have been a pellet gun as opposed to an actual firearm, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing a law enforcement official.

The authorities do not believe that the incident was part of a larger plot. A female bystander was also injured during the incident and taken to a hospital, although officials did not elaborate on how the woman was hurt.

Mr Jeff Westbrock, a North Carolina resident who was visiting Washington with his family, was in the main lobby of the visitor centre when the incident erupted. He said Capitol police officers yelled for everyone to get down, and then tourists were directed into nearby rooms, away from the scene.

"We covered each other up, Capitol police told everybody to stay low, and they neutralised the situation and told us to go into the auditorium and to stay safe," Mr Westbrock said. "They kept everybody calm and did a great job."

Ms Sophie Kneschke, a tourist from Germany, said it had been a scare.

"We were actually sitting in the cafeteria, we were just about to leave when I just saw a security man running in the hall and I didn't think of anything bad until people told us to lie on the ground and don't move and everything," she said. "I was pretty much in panic because I didn't know what was going on. We went with some employees of the building to an emergency exit and we stayed there until security men came, and then we got evacuated."

At a news conference later on Monday, Chief Matthew Verderosa of the US Capitol Police did not identify the man, but said he was "known to us".

Mr Verderosa did not say how the police had previously interacted with him.

NEW YORK TIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 30, 2016, with the headline 'Police shoot man wielding 'pellet gun' at US Capitol'. Print Edition | Subscribe