WASHINGTON – I went to Capitol Hill Wednesday for an osteoporosis luncheon,but by the time I left,I had more than bones on the brain. Things were hectic on the Hill,and I was in the middle of it all.
“Go south,” the police officers yelled,frantically directing traffic and pedestrians.
People came pouring out of the Cannon House Office Building next to where I was standing. I followed suit and fled. People looked around in confusion,but few stopped to see what was happening. A pink pump,deserted,lay on its side. People ran down the hill toward M Street SE,nearly a mile away,crossing a bridge near Garfield Park.
It was my third day in Washington as a reporting intern,and I was torn. Should I run,or should I stay and report?
I was scared,an amateur,and thought I should leave the reporting to the pros. But then,duty called,and I began to work my way back up the Hill,getting quotes as I went.
U.S. Capitol Police later said an unidentified plane was sighted in restricted air space near the Capitol. Chief Terrance W. Gainer estimated nearly 10,000 to15,000 people were removed from the Hill in five or six minutes,which he said was a good response.
The White House was also evacuated.,and military aircraft forced the two-seat plane to land in Frederick,Md.,about 50 miles north of the city. Two men were taken into custody. Gainer said it appeared they did not have permission to use the plane,which took off from a small airport in Pennsylvania.
At 12:42 p.m.,the area was declared safe,and police began funneling people back into the buildings.
Tourist Ryan Bauer,24,from St. Joseph,Mo.,was in the Senate chamber when the chaos commenced.
“We were watching the session. All of the sudden,guards came into the chamber and told all the senators to start running,” Bauer said.
“Everyone was evacuated equally. It was like a dead run. I found myself running with Senator [Patrick] Leahy and other senators,” Bower said of the Vermont Democrat.
Two students on their way to lobby Rep. Richard E. Neal,D-Mass.,were about to enter the Rayburn House Office Building when they were caught in the evacuation frenzy. Northampton,Mass.,residents Vivian Mintz King and Rebecca Rom-Frank,both 17,were surprised by the pandemonium.
“We were just leaving the Capitol,and suddenly I started to see people coming out. … It looked like people started to run and they were all like,‘Go south! Go south! People were running past us and then it sunk in that ‘Oh,this is an evacuation,'” Rom-Frank said.
Cindy Pearson,security manager for the Senate Armed Services Committee,said she was comfortable with authorities' decision to evacuate the Capitol.
“No,I did not find it extreme. I feel that officials should evacuate as often as they need to,” Pearson said as she stood near the Russell Senate Office Building.
She held a sign so other employees in her office could find each other,a procedure they instituted after the Sept. 11,2001,attacks. The staff was assigned a spot near the Capitol to meet in case of an emergency,and she decided to make the sign.
“Every time,it seems as if they improve a little,” Pearson said,referring to last summer's similar evacuation during former president Ronald Reagan's funeral.
Patti L. Ragsdale,a visitor from Reinbeck,Iowa,said she was headed to the Capitol with her family for a tour when she heard the word “evacuate” from people heading away from the building.
“I didn't think anything about it at first,” she said. “Then we started hearing jets.”
Ragsdale said she,her husband and three children,walked away quickly and prayed for safety. She said later that the family is still hoping for a Capitol tour before they return home Friday.
Scripps Howard Foundation Wire reporters Kara N. Edgerson and Tiffany Rae Leonard also contributed to this story.