1 of 1
BY CHRISTINE BEDELL, Californian city editor firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s hard to see how the timing of Diana and Charles Conner’s first vacation to Washington, D.C., with their 10-year-old grandson, Ethan, could get any worse.
The government shutdown locked the Bakersfield trio out of the Smithsonian museums they’d long hoped to see, blocked them from close-up views of the city’s many majestic monuments and kept them from their planned tour of the U.S. Supreme Court.
And then Thursday, during a limited (again thanks to the shutdown) tour of the Capitol building, they found themselves in the middle of the lockdown.
“This wasn’t what we expected,” Diana quipped after recounting the events of Thursday afternoon.
A staffer for House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, was taking the Conners from the Rotunda to the congressman’s office after a look around the Capitol when all of a sudden, police officers started running up and down the halls, Diana recounted.
“You can’t stay in the hall,” police told the little group, which then huddled in an alcove. Then authorities said they had to get into an office; problem was, McCarthy’s majority whip office doors were locked.
The staffer called the office and they all were let in. The Conners and McCarthy’s staff hung out there together, eating snacks, drinking water, watching TV, chatting and occasionally sneaking peeks out the window.
“They took good care of us,” Diana said.
When the all-clear came, McCarthy met up with the Conners, who’d planned their D.C. trip for a year and so were “very disappointed” to see so many sights closed due to the shutdown.
Diana was feeling grateful, though, that McCarthy’s office managed to take them around the Capitol, which was pretty empty given that so many other tourists weren’t as fortunate.
“We were lucky to see what we got to see,” said Diana, whose husband retired from Kern County Emergency Medical Services.
Meanwhile, McCarthy said the police officer injured in the incident that led to the lockdown was on his security detail last year. McCarthy hoped to visit him in the hospital later Thursday.
When the incident happened, McCarthy was walking from the House chamber, where he’d finished voting on some government shutdown-related matters, to his whip office.
Alarms went off, the congressman said, and he was steered to his whip offices, the same offices where a gunman shot two Capitol Police officers to death in 1998, when Tom DeLay, R-Texas, was House majority whip.
McCarthy said he and another congressman holed up in his inner office inside the whip’s office during the lockdown, monitoring TV for the latest news.
Kern County’s other congressman, David Valadao, R-Hanford, was in a news interview near the Capitol when he heard the shots and went into a nearby basement with another staffer with him at the time. They had been underground for about 20 minutes as of 3 p.m. Washington time, trying to check emails and learn more about what had happened.
"It's just surprising and there's lots of frustration with everything else going on, so it just kind of adds to it," Valadao said.
He added he would pray for the family of the suspect who was shot.
— The Fresno Bee contributed to this story