Local News

Suspect Arrested, Given 50-50 Chance to Survive

Posted July 23, 1998 7:00 a.m. EDT

— On a day of tears and prayers, the wounded suspect in a deadly shooting rampage at the Capitol was given a 50-50 chance of surviving. President Clinton called the firefight ``a moment of savagery.''

With a tear running down his right cheek, House Speaker Newt Gingrich bowed his head in prayer during the Republicans' weekly radio address. ``Please help this country learn to live with its freedom,'' he said. ``Please help those who are troubled learn to live peacefully with their problems.''

The suspect, identified as Russell E. Weston Jr., 41, of rural Rimini, Mont., was arrested today and charged with killing a federal officer while the officer was performing official duties. He is scheduled to be arraigned in absentia in Washington. Additional charges are pending.

Dr. Paul Oriaifo said Weston was in critical condition at D.C. General Hospital. Asked about the gunman's chances for survival, Oriaifo said, ``At this point, we'd say about 50-50.''

Doctors are ``still concerned that he will have problems with his heart and lungs in the coming days and weeks,'' Dr. Norma Smalls added.

Investigators are trying to learn how and why the gunman stormed the Capitol building filled with lawmakers and tourists, and opened fire before being shot and captured. A tourist was wounded in the fire fight.

Killed were Jacob Chestnut, 58, and John Gibson, 42, both 18-year veterans of the Capitol police force. Each was married with three children and colleagues said Chestnut, an Air Force veteran, planned to retire soon.

The wounded tourist was identified as Angela Dickerson, 24. George Washington University Hospital spokeswoman Lisa Saisselin said Dickerson's condition had been upgraded from serious to stable and she may be released today. Authorities did not disclose her hometown.

Weston had been investigated by the Secret Service two years ago ``as a sort of a low-level threat'' to Clinton, said a federal law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity. A psychologist and Secret Service agents determined that he was not an immediate threat. His name remained in the agency's databank, but there were no further reports of threats, officials said.

A grim-faced Clinton praised the two police officers who died in Friday's dramatic shootout and those who rushed to help.

``In this one heartless act, there were many acts of heroism,'' the president said.

About 17 hours after the brief but lethal gunfight, the Capitol reopened today, a tribute to its tradition as a symbol of freedom and democracy.

``We must keep it a place where people can freely and proudly walk the halls of our government,'' Clinton said.

Clinton praised the fallen officers, who ``laid down their lives for their friends, their co-workers and their fellow citizens - those that they were sworn to protect.'' He said the pair ``saved many others from exposure to lethal violence.''

He also mentioned Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., a heart surgeon, who rushed to the aid of the victims and the suspect.

Gingrich's voice cracked, his lips quivered, as he thanked Americans for an outpouring of sympathy for the slain officers. He closed with an emotional prayer, asking God to take the officers ``to your bosom.''

The shootings occurred at 3:40 p.m. Friday with the House still meeting and the Senate having just recessed for the week. They were the Capitol's first since 1954, when four Puerto Rican nationalists in the visitors' gallery of the House opened fire on lawmakers. A bomb exploded outside the Senate one night in 1983, leading authorities to tighten security the first of several times over the last 15 years.

Hours after the incident, investigators were seen shining flashlights on the floor of the vestibule where the shooting began, just inside an entrance on the Capitol's east side. Small, square, white markers were scattered over the floor, apparently marking where shell casings had fallen.

A security camera was operating in the vicinity of the shooting and presumably captured the episode on tape, said two officials speaking on condition of anonymity.

Many questions remained, such as the suspect's motivation, which officers shot him and how the tourist was injured. Nichols said Capitol officers decide whether to wear bulletproof vests, but did not make clear whether Chestnut and Gibson were wearing any.

Lawmakers and Capitol officials insisted that despite the casualties, the incident underlined a security system that managed to keep any of the hundreds of legislators and aides in the building from being shot.

``This was not fault of security,'' said Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., in a quavering voice. ``It was an individual who was determined to blast his way into the Capitol. He did not succeed, thanks to two officers who gave their lives.''

Thomas said the gunman entered the building but walked around the metal detector just inside the entrance.

According to several sources, Chestnut asked him to go back through the detector but was shot instantly with a .38-caliber handgun. A second officer stationed inside the door fired at the man, who ran a few feet around the corner and through a private entrance to a suite of offices occupied by House Republican Whip Tom DeLay of Texas.

There, Gibson confronted him, and the two men exchanged fire. They were found lying just a few feet from each other, said one Capitol official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

``I looked to my right and saw a guy with a gun,'' said Justin Brown, who works at a souvenir stand just a few feet from where the shootings occurred. ``The first thing I thought was, 'duck.' ... When I looked up I saw the officer with a hole in his chest.''Contents