Copy of 318593-01-02 [1]-1611478597534
Counter-protesters hold a sign reading "Ashli Babbitt deserved it" as they await demonstrators for a "Patriot March" demonstration in support of US President Donald Trump on January 9, 2021 in the Pacific Beach neighborhood of San Diego, California. - Air Force veteran Ashli Babbitt, 35 and a fervent backer of the president from San Diego, California, was shot dead by a Capitol Police officer inside the Capitol building on January 6, 2021. Image Credit: AFP

Washington: During the 4 1/2-hour attack on the Capitol on January 6, one of the moments when the mob came closest to the lawmakers they were pursuing took place just after 2.30pm.

On one side of a set of antique wood and glass doors were dozens of lawmakers and their aides trying to evacuate the House chamber.

On the other were rioters yelling “Stop the steal” as they hammered the panes with a flagpole, a helmet and even a bare fist.

In between was a Capitol Police lieutenant, scrambling to pile tables and chairs into a makeshift barricade. He had 31 rounds for his service weapon, and he has told others that he feared he might need them all.

At the height of the standoff, a woman named Ashli Babbitt tried to vault through a window. The lieutenant, his weapon already extended, pulled the trigger once, killing her in a confrontation that was captured on video and widely viewed around the world.

At least three investigations into the security response on January 6 are underway, and officials have not provided the full details of Babbitt’s death.

But videos taken of the episode, legal documents and witness accounts point to a dire set of circumstances and an officer left to confront a mob. The lieutenant, who has not been publicly named, has been placed on administrative leave while his actions are reviewed by federal authorities.

Copy of CAPITOL-RIOT-DEATHS-3 [1]-1611478592512
“She didn’t have any weapons on her, I don’t know why she had to die in the People’s House,” Ashli Babbitt's husband said, adding, “She was voicing her opinion and she got killed for it.” Image Credit: NYT

The use of deadly force by officers is considered legally justified if they have an “objectively reasonable” fear of serious, imminent harm to themselves or others. Several policing experts said that video of the encounter was not enough for them to offer an opinion on the shooting. But interviews with two people with direct knowledge of the officer’s account suggest he will make the case that he acted to protect lawmakers from harm.

“I could look them in the eyes,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, Democrat, Massachusetts, who had been presiding in the speaker’s chair and was one of the last to leave as the mob attempted to break through the doors. “I mean, that’s how close they were.”

He added: “I don’t even know what would have happened had they breached that area.”

Babbitt’s husband, Aaron, told a Fox affiliate on the day of the riot that he had seen his wife die on the news.

“She didn’t have any weapons on her, I don’t know why she had to die in the People’s House,” he said, adding, “She was voicing her opinion and she got killed for it.”


That afternoon both the House and the Senate were in session, with hundreds of lawmakers debating challenges to the certification of the Electoral College vote when the mob fought its way past lines of Capitol Police officers outside and forced their way into the building. Some said they merely wanted to halt the proceedings while others carried weapons, climbing gear and zip ties that could be used as restraints.

The crowd was peppered with far-right nationalists, military veterans and militia members, and adherents of a dangerous conspiracy. Rioters hurled invectives at police officers and called them traitors, threatening to kill former Vice President Mike Pence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Highly restricted

The lieutenant, a veteran officer, was regularly assigned to the Speaker’s Lobby, an enclosed hallway and waiting area in the inner sanctum of the Capitol where access is highly restricted. The lobby runs directly behind the House chamber and is lined with portraits of the House’s past leaders. It is bound by two sets of old wooden doors with windows, one on the Democratic side and one on the Republican side.

At about 2.15pm, the lieutenant heard on the radio that the Capitol had been breached, according to his account.

Pelosi was escorted from the chamber, but so little was understood about the situation at that point that she left her phone behind on the dais as if she would return shortly, McGovern recalled.

'Break it down'

At 2.30pm, a crowd that included Babbitt streamed through the Capitol Rotunda and Statuary Hall. At that point, they were calm, even staying within a walkway defined by velvet ropes. But as they surged toward the north doors of the House, they grew aggressive, chanting, “Break it down.”

Seeking another way into the House chamber, part of the crowd, including Babbitt, peeled off and made its way around to the Democratic side of the Speaker’s Lobby.

They were heading right for the passage being used to evacuate the House floor. Dozens of lawmakers and aides, according to witness estimates, were being ushered through doors on the Republican side of the chamber into the Speaker’s Lobby. It was a slow-moving group that had to funnel into a narrow staircase.

When McGovern reached the corridor, he turned to see the barricade of upturned furniture and the scene beyond.

“I could see the angry crowd banging on the glass, and I saw several police officers sandwiched between the crowd and the doors,” he said. “That’s when I realised that this was more than just a few people.”

He added, “You ask me to describe evil - that’s what it looked like. I mean, these people seem crazed. And I mean, they weren’t here to make a political point. They were here to destroy things.”

Familiar with security

Standing guard outside the doors were three Capitol Police officers. The crowd hurled insults at them and punched the glass just inches from their heads. To the right, at the top of a stairwell, stood a man in a suit with an earpiece, identified by a person familiar with congressional security as an unarmed member of the House sergeant-at-arms staff.

Near the front was Babbitt, 35, who had served 14 years in the Air Force and was an enthusiastic supporter of President Donald Trump. Her social media feed was filled with QAnon conspiracy theories.

One man in the crowd, David Charles Mish Jr. of Wisconsin, told an investigator later that Babbitt was telling the police officers, “Just open the door. They’re not gonna stop,” according to an affidavit.

Copy of 406000-01-02 [1]-1611478600390
Trump supporters pose after invading Capitol building. Image Credit: AP

Inside the doors was the lieutenant, who, according to his account, had trained to deal with an active shooter but never a scenario like this, in which the Capitol was being overrun by large numbers of people. Calls for backup and reports of officers engaged punctuated the radio traffic.

Since the breach began, rioters had wielded bear spray, batons, pipes and fire extinguishers against officers. When the lieutenant thought he heard on the radio that shots had been fired, according to his account, he positioned himself in a doorway off to one side of the corridor, with a view of anyone trying to get through the glass doors.

With the lawmakers slowly draining out the far end of the hall, those doors became a strategic choke point.

The officer, according to his account, could not see the three uniformed officers outside and did not know they were there - he only described seeing a hallway full of oncoming people. The three officers had no visible shields or riot gear - two of them were not even wearing hats.

According to the lieutenant’s account, he did not know who among the rioters, if anyone, was armed. Nor could he see how far down the hall the crowd extended.

The lieutenant was also unaware, those briefed on his account said, that a tactical team from the Capitol Police was climbing the stairwell behind Babbitt, intending to reinforce the area and clear out the rioters.

As the team arrived, one of the three officers standing guard gave the word: “They’re ready to roll.”

The officers moved away from their post, leaving the doors unguarded for a crucial 30 seconds.

“Go! Let’s go!” someone yelled as a few rioters renewed their attack on the glass. They continued to hammer, shaking the doors in their frames.

'He’s got a gun'

Several members of the crowd have since been identified and arrested by the FBI They include Christopher Ray Grider, a winery owner from central Texas who is accused of trying to kick in the doors and supplying a black helmet used to break windows, and Chad Barrett Jones of Coxs Creek, Kentucky, accused of breaking windows with a flagpole.

As they moved in, they got a clear view of the lieutenant on the other side, who was raising his .40-calibre Glock handgun.

“There’s a gun!” “He’s got a gun!” people shouted.

In the thick of the action, a man wielding the helmet broke out the windowpane in front of Babbitt. A few seconds later, someone tried to boost her through. She wore a Trump flag around her neck like a cape, and a backpack over it.

As Babbitt was hoisted up, the lieutenant fired a single shot. She plummeted backward, striking the hard floor. There was no evidence that she had been armed.

The shooting put an end to the attempts to break through the doors. Officers tried to push back the rioters and give Babbitt medical aid.

A member of the tactical team tried to stop her bleeding, pressing down on her left shoulder as blood streamed from her mouth and nose.

Outside the Capitol, word of the shooting began to spread, helping fuel the mob’s anger.