One anonymous phonecall and the media is off to the races. Someone heard a gunshot on the same parking level of the Rayburn House Office Building where the firing range is located and it's lockdown time, room to room searches, and lobbyists locked in hearing rooms sizing each other up to find the best cuts of meat for a late lunch.
As a reporter on Fox News said a few minutes ago, “Nobody's been arrested, nobody's been captured, and nobody's been injured.” He could have gone farther to point out that nobody's even seen a gunman or figured out who made the phonecall that started all of this. But the Capitol Police are taking the report seriously nonetheless, and I imagine those being told to stay in their offices and hearing rooms and the cafeteria with assault-rifles pointed at them are taking it pretty seriously as well.
Having worked on the house side of Capitol Hill and spent a lot of time in the Rayburn Building I can attest to the fact that it's a huge building and damned hard to control. Not only does it have a complex design with multiple corridors connecting different parts of the building, but there are scores of exits and entrances, multiple levels and elevators spaced far apart, a huge multilevel parking garage, and secret underground tunnels which many who work there are fully aware of. There's an underground subway system which the public generally doesn't know about, public tunnels to the capitol, and there are hidden steam tunnels all over the place which are large enough to walk through and which provide access to all of downtown DC, though most people aren't aware of them. As I understand it some of these means of access have been sealed off since I worked there. Back in those days you could sneak in and out of the building at will if you had some balls and some basic tools. It was a favorite target of building 'hackers'.
A couple of observations as the crisis develops.
First, they keep referring to a 'gunman'. Why couldn't it be a woman? Rep. Cynthia McKinney has a gun and is clearly mentally unstable, has a history of violence and is currently under a lot of pressure. She's tops on my list of purely speculative suspects.
Second, the person who was evacuated early in the crisis on a stretcher was not shot. She was a staffer who fainted because of the stress caused by the situation. Why they put a bag over her head is a mystery. Why they couldn't figure out who she was and why she was evacuated for more than an hour is rather mysterious as well. The other major casualty - a Capitol Police officer twisted his ankle.
Third, it's amusing that this happened during the hearings on whether reporters should be held liable for revealing national security secrets. The result is that every network has multiple reporters in the building, all with cell phones and some with cameras as well, so the coverage from inside the crisis area is unprecedented. But as usual, it's mostly reporters reporting on reporters - the new standard for American journalism.
The main conclusion of the reporters and the lesson to learn from the crisis until we hear more - if you get caught in a security lockdown, make sure you're in the cafeteria.
And the crisis continues with not very much happening…