By Hannah Hess
On a day when Louisiana lawmakers and other members of Congress mourned a fatal shooting in a Lafayette movie theater, Capitol Hill also honored two Capitol Police officers killed by a gunman who charged into the Capitol exactly 17 years ago.
“Shots fired at the Document Door. This was some 50 feet from where I was sitting. Two U.S. Capitol Police officers were down,” Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, recalled on Friday. “Their names were Jacob J. Chestnut and John M. Gibson. Between them, they had eight children and 36 years on the job.”
Russell Weston, a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, forced his way into the Capitol around 3:40 p.m. on July 24, 1998, shooting Chestnut, an 18-year veteran officer. He then proceeded toward the office of then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas. Boehner was meeting with his staff across the hall.
Weston attempted to enter DeLay’s office but was stopped by Gibson. The detective, who withstood at least two gun wounds, managed to shoot and down the gunman before succumbing to his injuries. He fell protecting DeLay’s staff.
“A right turn instead of a left, and what unfolded could have been very different,” Boenher reflected, in a statement commemorating the officers.
“These days, it’s the door I use to enter the Capitol. And when I do, to my left is a plaque that honors Officer Chestnut and Detective Gibson,” he continued. Boehner said what happened at the Capitol in 1998 “can, and too often has, happened anywhere.”
Capitol Police hold an annual wreath-laying ceremony for Chestnut and Gibson. Officers stand on ceremonial duty near the entrance named in their honor.
“The plaque is a marker of the thin blue line that separates good from evil and life from death,” Boehner stated.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., also asked the nation to remember Gibson and Chestnut. As a veteran legislative branch appropriator, Wasserman Schultz has developed a strong relationship with the men and women of the department.
“Their heroic actions that day helped save the lives of Members of Congress, congressional staff and the public,” she said in a statement. “We must all honor their memory by thanking the U.S. Capitol Police for their critical work that ensures Congress remains accessible to those who wish to see democracy in action.”