A Rhode Island native was caught in the middle of chaos inside the Capitol Building after Capitol Police shot and wounded a suspected gunman inside the Capitol Visitor’s Center in Washington, D.C. on Monday afternoon.
Cynthia Sexton of Portsmouth was taking a guided tour inside the Capitol Building when the shooting occurred.
“There was a bunch of commotion,” Sexton said. “There were policemen running back and forth and the call was made to get down so we all hit the floor.” The shooting occurred just after 2:30 p.m. after the man set off a metal detector, pulled out what appeared to be a weapon and pointed at police officers at the U.S. Capitol Complex.
Sexton said she was initially unaware of what was going on during the incident. “I didn’t realize there were bullets, I just heard noises and policemen running around,” she said.
The suspect, who was later identified as 66-year-old Larry Russell Dawson of Antioch, Tennessee, was charged with assault with a deadly weapon and assault on a police officer while armed.Â Dawson was arrested on a charge of assaulting a police officer in October after an outburst in the chamber of the House of Representatives when he told Congress he was a ‘prophet of God.’
Sexton, an associate professor for the College of Distance Education at the Newport Naval War College, said some people inside the Capitol Building were in a state of panic and locked themselves in a room while police officers scurried back and forth. After waiting for over 20 minutes, a man sitting next to her on the floor who identified himself as a firearms instructor said he recognized the sound of gunfire. She said the Capitol Building was eventually evacuated after 3:30.
“I saw a Capitol Police officer with a large rifle in front of him,” she said. “When I left the area, they were all on the street. The perimeter they set up, to have the manpower to do that was amazing to see.”
Sexton has served more than 20 years in the United States Air Force, and served as a military professor at the U.S. Naval War College where she taught National Security Decision Making during her last tour of active duty. Thanks to her military training, she was able to remain vigilant during the shooting incident.
“They have us do training every year on what to do in these situations,” she said. “I’ve always been taught the first thing to do is to run, the second thing is to shelter in place and the third thing to attack back. If you’re concerned of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, the crazy people have won.” She also showed her children an instructional video that explained how to react in these situations.
“The suspect was taken into custody and transported to the hospital for treatment,” Capitol Police Chief Matthew Verderosa said. “We believe this is an act of a single person who has frequented the Capitol grounds before, and there is no reason to believe this is anything more than a criminal act.”
In the wake of the recent terrorist attacks overseas in Brussels and in Iraq, Sexton said cities across the United States should be on high alert and increase public safety.
“It’s what we need to expect to be alert at all times,” she said. “Areas that are high concentration, those are areas where you need to be cautious. You realize it’s not a drill, but you hope that there are professionals who are trained to handle these situations and they handle them the right way.”