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When the radio call announcing “shots fired” went out shortly after 8:20 a.m. on Sept. 16, Capitol Police Officer Melissa Marshall was among the first to deploy as part of enhanced security operations around the Capitol.
Marshall, who started her shift at the South Barricade at 7 a.m. that day, had been headed for her morning break but quickly changed her route, grabbed her M4 rifle and a few extra magazines of ammunition and headed back to her post.
Marshall, a member of the elite Capitol Police First Responder Unit, and the other officers at her post listened to Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police Department radio updates on the mass shooting under way at the Navy Yard, trying to grab information that might help assess potential threats to the Capitol.
Another elite Capitol Police unit, the Containment and Emergency Response Team, was heading to the scene and was allegedly told to stand down when it arrived, a situation currently under review by a Capitol Police Board team.
“We still had to keep things running smoothly here,” Marshall said on Wednesday, reflecting on the experience. “Even though we were on high alert, Congress still has a job to do and we need to make sure that we’re protecting them.”
Another member of the First Responder Unit, Officer Paul Nebel, was also on the 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift that day and was stationed on the lawn of the East Front of the Capitol with an M4 strapped to his chest. He was part of the beefed-up operations set up to protect everyone under the Dome and in its immediate vicinity from the threat of an active shooter.
While scanning his surroundings for threats, Nebel was also fielding questions from tourists curious about the presence of armored vehicles and officers in bulletproof vests and helmets.
“I don’t tapdance around any question,” he said. “I feel it’s better to be honest and upfront with these guys and just let them know what’s going on, and I try to be polite and professional because that, too, is part of my job. You’ve got to learn how to polish those skills and use them effectively, just as effective as that M4.”
The First Responder Unit is an elite, close-knit group of more than 150 officers charged with protecting the members, staffers, journalists, visitors and thousands of tourists crisscrossing the grounds of the Capitol each day. CQ Roll Call was given the opportunity to talk to four of the unit’s officers about how they ensure the security of the Capitol and the people inside.