Congress honors Officer Brian Sicknick’s heroic defense of the Capitol

‘It has left deep scars in this building, among his friends and his colleagues,’ Schumer says at memorial service

Capitol Police participate in a departure ceremony for the late officer Brian Sicknick, who lay in honor in the Rotunda of the Capitol on Feb. 3. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times Pool Photo)
Capitol Police participate in a departure ceremony for the late officer Brian Sicknick, who lay in honor in the Rotunda of the Capitol on Feb. 3. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times Pool Photo)
Posted February 3, 2021 at 1:44pm

Members of Congress, top military brass, President Joe Biden and hundreds of Capitol Police paid their respects to Officer Brian Sicknick, who suffered fatal injuries when defending the Capitol from the violent insurrection on Jan. 6.

A small wooden box with Sicknick’s remains was carried up the illuminated West Front steps of the Capitol on Tuesday night and set on a bier draped with gray cloth in the Capitol Rotunda, along with a folded American flag. The Rotunda remained open and lit overnight, specifically for Capitol Police to pay respects to their fallen fellow officer.

As the sun rose over the Capitol on Wednesday, they were still lined up to enter the hallowed space and honor their colleague. Two by two, or alone, they approached Sicknick’s remains and stood for a moment, some closing their eyes, laying their hands on the urn or pressing their hands together in prayer.

Congressional leaders honored Sicknick in a ceremony Wednesday morning, with around 80 Capitol Police officers seated in socially distanced concentric circles, alongside fewer than 20 lawmakers, Sicknick’s family and select guests.

“Oh beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife
Who more than self, their country loved
And mercy more than life,” sang the United States Air Force official chorus, the Singing Sergeants.

The words of “America the Beautiful” echoed in the cavernous space. They were a fitting message to honor Sicknick, who died defending the seat of democracy from a violent mob seeking to undermine American government.

“He was caught at the wrong place, at the wrong time, on a day when peace was shattered,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer said at the memorial.

Sicknick, 42, was on duty when rioters determined to overturn the election results through force entered the building, vandalized property and sought out lawmakers. He was injured while “physically engaging with protesters,” a Capitol Police statement said. The 12-year veteran of the force returned to his division office and collapsed. He was taken to a local hospital, where he later died.

“Talk to his colleagues, and they will tell you that Brian was a kind and humble man with profound inner strength. The quiet rock of his unit. They will tell you that Brian was dependable, never missed a radio call,” Schumer said.

Sicknick wouldn’t have liked the attention, he said, and “if he were here, he’d be the first to puncture the somber moment with his sharp sense of humor.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi pledged that Congress and the Capitol community would honor Sicknick’s memory in the years ahead.

“Each day when members enter the Capitol, this temple of democracy, we will remember his sacrifice and others that day who fought so hard to protect the Capitol and the Congress,” she said.

Schumer acknowledged the toll that the Jan. 6 attack has taken on the Capitol Police. He made a point to remind the dozens of officers in attendance that mental health counseling is available and that those in need should reach out for help, referencing two police officers who have died by suicide in recent weeks.

“It has left deep scars in this building, among his friends and his colleagues, as have the tragic deaths of two of Brian’s fellow officers in the days since his passing,” said Schumer. “Let us be a comfort to all who continue to recover from injuries, seen and unseen, from the attack on Jan. 6.”

Most of the lawmakers present for the brief memorial service were members of leadership of each chamber, who have a more close and personal connection with Capitol Police, being under protective detail around the clock. Two special agents from House GOP Whip Steve Scalise’s detail saved lives when they returned fire as a gunman targeted a congressional baseball practice in 2017. Scalise was seated in the front row of lawmakers at Sicknick’s memorial.

Other lawmakers included on the short roster included Sicknick’s home-state senators Cory Booker and Bob Menendez of New Jersey. Prior to joining the Capitol Police, Sicknick was a staff sergeant with the New Jersey Air National Guard.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley sat beside newly confirmed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Sicknick is just the fifth person and the third Capitol Police officer to receive the distinction of lying in honor in the Capitol Rotunda, a designation for those who were not government or military officials.

The last time a member of the force was killed defending the Capitol was in 1998, when Officer Jacob J. Chestnut and Detective John M. Gibson were murdered by a gunman attempting to force his way into the building.

Both Gibson and Chestnut lay in honor in the Capitol Rotunda before they were buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Sicknick will also be buried at Arlington.

Chestnut’s wife, Wen Ling Chestnut, was in attendance at Wednesday’s memorial service. She bowed before Sicknick’s urn and then, over on the side of the Rotunda, quietly sobbed into the shoulder of a woman accompanying her, shoulders heaving up and down.

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With a small guest list for the memorial service, other members of Congress had trickled through the Rotunda in the early morning hours to honor Sicknick, many carrying winter coats, signaling that their stop was their first agenda item for the day.

While some lawmakers were visibly moved, silently praying or placing a hand on the urn, others brought along someone to take a photo of them paying their respects, checking to see if they liked the shot.

Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff came through around 8:45 a.m., closing their eyes for a moment and then placing their hands on the wooden box. President Joe Biden had already made a late night visit on Tuesday. Around 10:20 p.m. he made his way to the center of the Rotunda, where he performed the sign of the cross and clasped hands with his wife, Jill Biden.

Hundreds of Capitol Police assembled on the West Front of the Capitol, lining the steps and covering the plaza to say a final farewell to Sicknick as his remains departed the Capitol for Arlington National Cemetery. The USCP mountain bike first responders, Sicknick’s division, wore their vibrant blue coats with reflective trim and bicycle helmets and saluted him one last time.

Chris Cioffi contributed to this report.