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Sources: Capitol 'gunfire' likely from air hammer

All-clear given at Rayburn building after apparent false alarm

Police cordon off a street in the Capitol area after reports of the sounds of gunfire Friday.


Capitol Hill


  • Comprises Capitol Building, six congressional office buildings and three Library of Congress buildings
  • Buildings connected by pedestrian and subway tunnels
  • Grounds cover about 274 acres
  • Rayburn building has four stories above ground, two basements and three underground parking levels
    Source: The Architect of the Capitol
  • WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A House office building reopened Friday afternoon after investigators determined a report of gunshots in a parking garage probably came from worker using an air hammer, according to sources.

    The Rayburn House Office Building was locked down Friday morning after a congressman reported what he thought were gunshots in the building's garage, prompting armed police to conduct a room-by-room search of the complex.

    It was unclear whether the report by Republican Rep. Jim Saxton of New Jersey, as related by his spokesman, was the only one Capitol Police received.

    High-ranking law enforcement sources at the Capitol told law enforcement expert Mike Brooks the noises apparently were made by a mechanic using a pneumatic hammer on an elevator.

    "It looks like this is going to be the source of the noise that they heard," Brooks said.

    Police issued an "all-clear" about 3:15 p.m.

    Capitol Police spokeswoman Kimberly Schneider said men working on an elevator did make the noises, but she could not confirm what kind of equipment they were using.

    "In doing their routine duties, they made some sort of a noise that sounded like shots fired," she told reporters.

    A spokesman for Saxton said the congressman "was in the garage in the Rayburn building at 10:30 and heard what he thought were six to 10 shots of gunfire."

    "He then followed House procedure and had his staff report the incident," Greg Keeley told CNN.

    Schneider said police received the first report of shots at the same time, 10:30 a.m.

    Armed officers searched "the old-fashioned way," Schneider said, going door to door checking the 50 acres of office space in the 169 suites in the building. (Watch lawmaker tell colleagues of gunshot report -- 1:03)

    As police searched for the source of the sounds of gunfire, authorities said two women reported a man with a gun inside a Rayburn gym.

    A senior law enforcement source the man may have been a plainclothes officer.

    A woman was taken by ambulance from the House staff gym to the hospital during the lockdown, said David All, a spokesman for Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Georgia.

    "She was not injured or shot, just a little shaken up under the circumstances," All said. The woman was released from the hospital Friday afternoon, according to the congressman's blog.

    Parts of the Capitol complex, including the Capitol itself, were locked down during the height of the search.

    The Capitol was reopened by 12:45 p.m.

    Business continued as usual on the Senate side. (Capitol area)

    The initial alert came moments after a press conference on immigration by Rep. John Sensenbrenner, R-Wisconsin.

    Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Michigan, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, was conducting a hearing at the time.

    Hoekstra interrupted a witness to tell those at the hearing to remain in the room and said the doors must be closed.

    "It's a little unsettling to get a Blackberry message put in front of you that says there's gunfire in the building," he said.

    Dark humor began to emerge in the room as the lunch hour passed.

    "If my wife is watching, send food," said Jonathan Turley, a professor from George Washington University Law School, who before the lockdown had just finished testimony about whether journalists can speak freely about problems in government.

    Turley said a few muffins, a stash of nuts and a healthy dose of "gallows humor" got the group through the situation.

    At one point, he said, an FBI SWAT team arrived and ordered everyone to put their hands over their heads -- including members of Congress -- and "frog-marched us out of the committee room" to be run through a metal detector.

    Elsewhere, some representatives hunkered down and made the best of it. "We're down to our last nachos and pizza combos, but we'll survive," said Rep. Bob Filner, D-California.

    Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut -- racing to the airport after being let out of the building -- said she and her staff members didn't get much official information outside "of what we were following on CNN."

    Washington attorney Greg Scott spent the time locked down on the Rayburn cafeteria. "We had it easy 'cause we could get lunch," he said.

    Business continued as usual in the Senate's office buildings, which are on the north side of Capitol Hill. The House buildings are on the south side.

    The Capitol Police sent an e-mail to House staff members urging those in the Rayburn building to "shelter in place."

    It recommended that people "quickly move into the nearest interior office space or interior hallway and away from windows," remain calm and stay in the building as they awaited further instructions.

    Rayburn is the largest of three House office buildings. The other two are Longworth and Cannon. It has four levels above ground, two basement levels and three garage levels.

    The building is 720 feet by 450 feet, and contains 25 elevators and 23 escalators. It includes more than 50 acres of office space, which include 169 office suites.

    Credentials are needed to get into the garage, and each vehicle is searched, the police spokeswoman said.

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