Rep. Susan Wild was sitting in the House gallery Wednesday afternoon, listening to objections about Arizona’s electoral count, when Capitol Police sent out a security alert.
“Everybody was to remain where they were and keep doors locked and be quiet,” the Lehigh Valley Democrat said in a phone interview Wednesday evening. After that, she heard a “commotion” in the hallway outside the gallery, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Steny Hoyer, the House majority leader, were quickly taken off the floor.
What soon unfolded was captured in a chilling photo of Wild lying on her back on the chamber floor, terrified, while a colleague, Colorado Democrat Jason Crow, offered an outstretched hand. The picture quickly became one of the most memorable images of the chaos and terror as a mob stormed the Capitol and angry insurgents burst inside.
Wild and other members of the House were instructed to remain in place and stay calm, and to pull out the gas masks stashed under their seats “because tear gas was going to be deployed at some point.”
Then they were told to evacuate.
“The mood just completely changed,” she said. “People were shouting over each other, so it’s really hard to understand what people were saying.”
She was among a group of about 20 people who were the last in line to leave. They maneuvered between narrow rows of seats, while holding on to their gas masks.
“All of a sudden, the last group of us were told to get down, that we couldn’t evacuate because there was a new disturbance out in the hallway,” Wild said. “And right after we were told to get down I started hearing shots and breaking glass and didn’t really know what was going on, except that it was terrifying.”
While she was in the gallery, Wild had called her son and asked him to put his sister on the phone as well. “I wasn’t anxious to let them know that I was in a dangerous situation, but I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next, and felt the need to talk to them,” she said. Later, she learned they had heard shots and breaking glass in the background.
The situation was “terrifying. And made the more so, because it seemed as though the police were very much outnumbered,” Wild said. “From my vantage point, it seems like we did not have nearly enough police on the House floor. There wasn’t even one policeman at every door when this first all came down.”
She didn’t get back up off the floor until they were told the door had been secured, and to get out as quickly as possible.
“I don’t know how much time elapsed,” she said. “I completely lost sense of time.”
Wild and others were then led by police down steps and through a series of hallways, “shepherded to a safe location with a lot of guards outside the door.”
Since then, her fear has given way to anger and fatigue. Wild said Wednesday evening she was in a room with 300 other people — “many of whom are refusing to wear masks,” and who “are being very accusatory toward the Democrats about why this all happened.” She said she couldn’t disclose the location of the room, but that “it feels like it’s a COVID super-spreader event.”
“I’m very, very worried for how we will move forward after this, how we will ever feel safe,” she said. She had been looking forward to the day visitors could return to the Capitol in the wake of the pandemic, and “God only knows when that will happen again. So that makes me very sad.”
Wild said she didn’t know when she and others would be released from the room, despite police announcing that the Capitol had been cleared.
“We still have to finish the Electoral College process,” she said. (The count resumed later Wednesday night.)
After the day’s tumultuous events, she said, “it’s hard to imagine leaving the Capitol grounds and going home.”