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Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection a year later: Congress members reveal details of their escape

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The growing echo of angry voices buzzing down the corridor. Strangers pounding on doors. Glass shattering and wood splintering, and officers uttering the unimaginable: “The Capitol has been breached."

A year later, the sounds still haunt members of Congress who were in their chambers during the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington, D.C. Many were frighteningly close to the rioters who had amassed to protest the certification of the election of now-President Joe Biden.

Some lay on the floor and prayed, fearing for their lives. Others were so disoriented by the chaos, unaware of the severity in the moment, that it has taken them months to process what happened.

But the aftereffects still reverberate across the nation. Federal prosecutors have charged more than 600 people in at least 40 states with participating in the riot.

Five Capitol Police officers have died from that day — four by suicide and one, Brian Sicknick, a New Jersey native, who died a day later of a stroke. About 130 Capitol officers have since left the force.

Congress' investigation into the insurrection by supporters of then-President Donald Trump continues. Several members of Trump's inner circle have refused to cooperate with the probe, and adviser Steve Bannon faces contempt of Congress charges.

Trump has also attacked the committee's work.

"The people being persecuted by the January 6th Unselect Committee should simply tell the truth, that they are angry about the RIGGED Presidential Election of 2020," Trump said in a statement Dec. 23.

The USA TODAY Network's Atlantic Group spoke to eight members of Congress from the region about their experiences that day.

Many revealed never-before publicized details as they shared memories of fear, confusion — and determination to fulfil their duties in the face of unprecedented upheaval.

Here are their stories. Click or tap on a name from the list below to jump to their account:

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY: 'I didn't know what the danger was'

'For the first time ever...I'm worried about the future of our democracy'
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer remembers the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection on the United States Capitol.
Seth Harrison, Seth Harrison/USA Today Network

Chuck Schumer didn't sleep much in the early hours of Jan. 6.

Just hours into the night, the New York senator learned that Georgia's undecided Senate seats would go to Democrats, making him the Senate majority leader and allowing him to proceed over the presidential election certification for Joe Biden later that day.

Around 2 p.m., the strong pull of a hand on his collar startled him while on the Senate floor. His first thought: a nuclear attack.

"A police officer in a bulletproof vest with a submachine gun strapped across his chest grabs me by the collar like this," Schumer described to the USA TODAY Network Atlantic Group, showing the grip on his dress shirt.

"I’ll never forget it: ‘Senator, you’re in danger. We have to get out of here.' I didn’t know what the danger was. He didn’t explain it to me.'"

Moments later, Schumer was running alongside his security detail through the bowels of the Capitol, narrowly missing the angry mob of insurrectionists nearby, as video released Feb. 11 during the second impeachment trial of Trump showed.

"I was within 20 feet of these insurrection(ists), I’m not allowed to curse, but ‘sons of guns,'" Schumer described now a year later. "Had one of them had a gun, had two of them blocked off the door, who knows what would have happened."

Senate Maj. Leader Chuck Schumer seen in Capitol riot video being ushered away from mob
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., is ushered away from the mob in this footage from the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol.
USA TODAY

Schumer soon found himself inside a bunker a mile away from the Capitol with the other leaders of Congress, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The Capitol, they realized, was under siege.

They said they pleaded with the White House to get Trump to call off the mob, which the outgoing president didn't do until hours later.

"I spent time on the phone trying to get the president, who wouldn’t talk to me, but we did talk to the acting attorney general and to the secretary of defense to get Trump to call them to leave, which he didn’t do at that time," Schumer said. "He did it later."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY.
Seth Harrison/The Journal News
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY
When I go through that corridor, I remember it. I feel determination that we have to preserve this democracy.
Seth Harrison/The Journal News

Schumer calls for Trump's removal: 'This president should not hold office one day longer'

And he kept calling his Senate colleagues on his well-known flip phone, making sure they were safe. He knows all their numbers by memory.

Schumer said the leaders vowed to continue that night with the certification, even though the Capitol was ripped apart and the safety of the building was still not entirely assured. They did so in the middle of the night.

"When I go through that corridor, I remember it," Schumer said now of the day and walking since through the Capitol hallways.

"I feel determination that we have to preserve this democracy."

Rep. Andy Kim, D-NJ: 'At this moment, we feel so divided'

Rep. Andy Kim recalls his simple act after the Capitol riot
Rep. Andy Kim recounts helping to clear debris from the Capitol Rotunda after insurrectionists stormed the building on Jan. 6th, 2021.
Thomas P. Costello, Asbury Park Press

In the late-night hours after the riot, U.S. Rep. Andy Kim noticed a fragment of gold foil glinting in the debris of the Capitol crypt.

The New Jersey Democrat plucked it from the dross, then found a companion piece nearby.

He fused the two shards in his hands, and a startling symbol revealed itself: a small fractured gold eagle. An insignia detached from a pendant, perhaps, or a commemorative pin.

Kim put it in his pocket, immediately recognizing its significance. The traditional symbol of American power and freedom and triumphant pride had been cracked by violent rage and partisanship.

Kim keeps the eagle memento remains in his Capitol Hill office. For him, it is a reminder of a nation in need of healing. 

"I saw some symbolism ... just like our country, hurting,'' the 38-year-old lawmaker said inside his Willingboro, N.J., office now a year later.

Jan. 6 was freighted with metaphor — and a photo of Kim from that day would become one of the more memorable metaphors.

An image of Kim on the floor of the rotunda, head bowed by a pile of garbage, careened through cyberspace and into the consciousness of a nation reeling in disbelief and searching for answers.

The photo became an iconic embodiment of American humility and resilience, the determination to plow forward through a crisis and start anew.

 "And so to me, to disrespect the Capitol Building is to disrespect our Constitution,'' he said. "And to take care of the Capitol Building is to revere and show respect for that Constitution." 

Rep. Andy Kim recounts his simple act of helping to clear debris from the Capitol Rotunda after insurrectionists stormed the building on Jan. 6, 2021.
Rep. Andy Kim recounts his simple act of helping to clear debris from the Capitol Rotunda after insurrectionists stormed the building on Jan. 6, 2021. Thomas P. Costello

Much of Kim's memory is a tapestry of the unglamorous detritus of destruction: cigarettes stubbed out on the base of historic statues, a shredded Trump flag. The empty water bottles, the fire extinguisher foam that coated his light blue suit, which has since been donated to the Smithsonian Institution.

'Never be forgotten': Rep. Andy Kim donates suit worn during Capitol riot to Smithsonian

Kim, who served as a civilian adviser to former Gen. David Petraeus in Afghanistan as well as a national security adviser to former President Obama, hoped the shock of watching the ransacking of "this center point of our democracy" would spur a new national spirit of unity, much like it did after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Not this time.

"At this moment, we feel so divided that, that I'm not sure what it's going to take to bring us together,'' he said.

Rep. Andy Kim, D-NJ.
Thomas P. Costello/Asbury Park Press
Rep. Andy Kim, D-NJ
I think service is what binds us in recognizing that we're part of something bigger than all of us, that we have a responsibility to this country as as citizens and as Americans, and also that we have much, much, much more in common than our differences.
Thomas P. Costello/Asbury Park Press

There are signs of hope, he argues. He has now been twice elected in a deeply divided district that stretches along the banks of the Delaware River near Philadelphia in blue-leaning Burlington County, to the Jersey Shore in the MAGA heartland of Ocean County.

He is also the son of Korean-American immigrants in a district that has only 3% of voters identified as Asian-American.

Perhaps the nation isn't as polarized as the social-media driven national debate suggests.

 "I think service is what binds us in recognizing that we're part of something bigger than all of us, that we have a responsibility to this country as citizens and as Americans, and also that we have much, much, much more in common than our differences,'' he said.

Email: stile@northjersey.com Twitter: @politicalstile

Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa.: 'I would never have expected that, not in America'

Pa. Rep. Mike Kelly discusses the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection
Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., spoke about his experience on the House floor during the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.
Lucy Schaly, Erie Times-News

Rep. Mike Kelly, a Republican who represents Pennsylvania's 16 District, noticed a lack of security Jan. 6 as he walked into his office. 

"What I was really aware of on the way in was that there were only two policemen at the front door," he said. "Usually, there were like eight." 

Capitol police had an easy explanation: "They said, 'We're light today because you guys aren't really in session,'" Kelly recalled.

They did, however, have work to do: Congress was meeting to count electoral votes and certify Biden's election.

Kelly didn't agree with the outcome of the election. But when he reflects on that day now, it is the importance of the process — the hundreds of people who tried to disrupt it and the members of Congress who did their jobs — that he remembers most.

He was aware of the growing commotion outside as he stood on the House floor and ultimately left through an underground tunnel to a meeting room in the Longworth Building, about 150 yards away.

Like others in the chamber that day, Kelly could hear the noise outside, and he was among those who received word from Capitol police that protesters were entering the building.

"They said: 'There are a lot of people in the building right now. We would appreciate it if you would all stay in your seats and don't leave the room,'" Kelly said.

A second warning from police was soon followed by a third. It was time to leave.

"As I walked out, leaving the floor, and in the Speaker's lobby, you could look into the far end and see people pounding on the roods and you could hear all this noise," Kelly said of the ornate beams

Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa.
Lucy Schaly/USA TODAY Network Atlantic Group
Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa.
It's not all right what happened that day. It was a criminal action.
Lucy Schaly/USA TODAY Network Atlantic Group

As he hid, Kelly's phone lit up as family and friends reached out to check on him and get more information. But he never felt unsafe.

"Never did I feel that I was in any danger or that any of our members were in danger," Kelly said. "We were in a safe place, totally away from the crowd who had gotten inside the Capitol."

After watching televised accounts and returning to the riot-damaged Capitol, he was shocked.

"I would never have expected that, not in America," he said. "They were coming into the House to do what? I don't understand breaking things and breaking down doors."

It's OK to be upset, he said. But "it's not all right what happened that day. It was a criminal action."

He was proud when Congress finished its work at the end of that long day, leading Vice President Mike Pence to certify Biden's victory. He voted against the certification.

"America has a process, and America finished its process that day," Kelly said. "Now, not my choice for president, but President Biden is in office. There is a process that has to take place."

Mike Kelly ethics probe: What are the possible outcomes for the 6th-term congressman?

Email: Jim Martin jmartin@timesnews.com; Twitter: @ETNMartin.

Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa.: 'We had a job to finish'

'This is madness, absolute madness here': Rep. Madeleine Dean recalls Jan. 6
"A great majority of us wanted desperately to not let this succeed even by a day," Rep. Madeleine Dean said about the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
Nur B. Adam, Bucks County Courier Times

Capitol Police told Pennsylvania Rep. Madeleine Dean to get on the ground, to put on a gas mask, and to get to a safe room.

Then they told her to take off her legislative pin.

Dean subscribes to the belief of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who used pins as a diplomatic tool. Dean typically wore two pins every day: her legislative pin and another, usually a gold bald eagle that her father gave to her mother.

She wore the bald eagle when she was sworn in to Congress in 2019. She wore it when she and other impeachment managers charged Trump.  

Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., and other members take cover as protesters disrupt the joint session of Congress to certify the Electoral College vote on Wednesday, January 6, 2021.
Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., and other members take cover as protesters disrupt the joint session of Congress to certify the Electoral College vote on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images

But on Jan. 6, taking off her pin was a matter of safety. It identified her as a lawmaker, and lawmakers were at risk of violence. 

“So that was a sad day when you think I have the honor of serving and I couldn’t wear that pin,” Dean said.

When she talks about Jan. 6, Dean sounds like a lawyer prosecuting a case. Then she recalls talking with her family during those frightening moments.

“I was on the phone with my family from the time they told us to put the gas masks on,” she said, her eyes filling with tears.

Dean paused as tears slid down her cheeks. “I feel bad," she said, "that I scared them so much.”

She didn’t feel safe at any point that day, not even when they were cleared to return to the ransacked House floor and vote to certify the presidential election. She passed shattered glass, splintered wood, feces smeared on the Capitol walls that Dean had always found “gorgeous” and “stately.”

But she felt duty-bound: They had a job to finish, she said. The Capitol for her became breathtaking in a different way.

“I don’t feel like it’s the same place,” she said nearly a year later. “It’s a hallowed place.”

Building security is different, too. She has to pass through a metal detector before each time she votes on the House floor.

Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa.
Nur B. Adam/Bucks County Courier Times
Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa.
I’m aware every single day of my surroundings more than I ever have been. What a sad state of affairs that we can’t go about our work and feel safe among ourselves.
Nur B. Adam/Bucks County Courier Times

“I’m aware every single day of my surroundings more than I ever have been,” she said. “What a sad state of affairs that we can’t go about our work and feel safe among ourselves.”

And there’s at least one self-imposed rule she's had since Jan. 6: She won’t co-lead a bill with anyone who voted not to certify election results. 

The consequences of Jan. 6 are all around her, but Trump still needs to be held accountable for the violent attack, she said. 

“That was planned. That was prepared for,” Dean said.  

Lately, whenever she gets discouraged about the lack of accountability for Trump, she wears a pin in the shape of a starfish. It symbolizes a parable about a boy who tries to save starfish that have washed onto the beach. An older man says the boy can't make a difference because there are more starfish on the beach than he could ever save.

The boy throws one starfish back in the ocean and tells the man: He made a difference to that one.

“That’s the line of work we’re in. We’re saving starfish,” Dean said. “When I get really discouraged, I remember I helped somebody. I made a difference for one person today.”

Email: cwoodall@gannett.com Twitter: @candynotcandace

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa.: 'We were inside essentially a bubble'

'It was always so outside of the realm of possibility': Rep. Fitzpatrick recalls Capitol riot chaos
"We put [the gas masks] on, and it's a sound none of us will ever forget." Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick talks about the chaos in the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Nur B. Adam, Bucks County Courier Times

The sharp hum filling the House chamber sounded to Pennsylvania Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick like an angry hornets' nest. He'd never imagined such a thing.

Moments earlier, the sergeant at arms delivered another update to the 100 or so people sheltering in place. Law enforcement had begun using tear gas inside the building to slow the surge of rioters.

Put on your gas masks, the sergeant said.

“That is when we knew there was a real problem,” Fitzpatrick, a Republican, said.

Since he was elected in 2016, Fitzpatrick has led constituent groups from the suburban Philadelphia communities he represents on tours of the House floor. He let them sit in his chair near the speaker’s gallery. It never fails that a visitor will find the black soft-sided zippered case underneath the seat and ask what it is.

“We always told them in the event that anything ever broke really bad, that is what we have to put on,” he said.

Now here he was: opening that case for the self-contained oxygen masks, not for a tour group, but for protection. 

“You heard this echo of this buzzing going on, which added another element of just distress to the whole situation,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s a sound that none of us will ever forget.”

Less than an hour earlier, as the vote certification process began, Fitzpatrick noticed his cell phone notifications blowing up with text messages from family, friends and former FBI colleagues asking if he was OK.

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa.
It sounded like a battering ram trying to beat down the doors. It was frightening. There is no question about it. I'm a career law enforcement officer, and it was frightening to me.

“I didn’t know what they were talking about,” he said. “We were inside essentially a bubble on the floor of the House because, at least at that point, we weren’t hearing or seeing anything.”

Then the sergeant at arms and a Capitol police officer entered the chamber, interrupting the process for certifying the winner of the Electoral College vote. Fitzpatrick knew something serious was happening.

Then he heard five words no one there ever expected to hear: “The Capitol has been breached.”

“Those were his exact words. You don’t need to be a career law enforcement officer to know that those are very troubling words to be uttered by the head of security for the Capitol complex,” Fitzpatrick said.

“If you breach the Capitol, then the genie is out of the bottle at that point. It’s very hard to contain.”

Fitzpatrick was among those on the floor waiting to be evacuated when he got his first taste of the unfolding chaos around them that led to the gas mask order. The rioters were attempting to enter the Speaker’s Lobby just outside the House chamber.  

“It sounded like a battering ram trying to beat down the doors,” he said. “It was frightening. There is no question about it. I'm a career law enforcement officer, and it was frightening to me.”

Fitzpatrick was in a group originally funneled into a cafeteria in the House.

“As they brought us into the cafeteria there, I said to the police officer who directed us there, there's windows everywhere. This is not where you want us to be.”

Eventually, the group went into an undisclosed bunker where hundreds of lawmakers and journalists were isolated for roughly four hours. Three-fourths of Congress was in the room, Fitzpatrick estimated.

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa.
Nur B. Adam/Bucks County Courier Times
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa.
You can’t say you’re pro-law enforcement and pro-law and order and conduct yourself in the manner that many of them did when they stormed the Capitol.
Nur B. Adam/Bucks County Courier Times

There, people contacted family, though service was spotty because cell towers were overwhelmed. They caught up on news reports. They prayed. People loaned cell phones to others with dead phones.

At some point, Republican Rep. Liz Cheney got up and spoke, followed by a Democrat, Fitzpatrick said. Then, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi entered the room.

She told the lawmakers that they had a constitutional duty to fulfill. The 2020 presidential election would be certified. Hours later, they heard five more words: “The Capitol has been secured.”

As he walked back to the House chamber, the broken glass in the lobby leading into the chamber caught his eye. It came from the window that insurrectionist Ashli Babbitt climbed through before a Capitol police officer shot and killed her.  

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa.
If you listen to what our adversaries say … when they say the only way you are going to take down America is by turning American on American, any time I see that happening we are playing right into that and we are putting our democracy at risk.

“And it was like that, by the way, for days,” Fitzpatrick added.

Related: Fitzpatrick talks Capitol insurrection, Trump's legacy and why he voted no on impeachment

In a Tweet he posted hours later, he called those who participated in the riots “criminals and thugs who should all be in jail.” His stance hasn’t softened with time. 

“You can’t say you’re pro-law enforcement and pro-law and order and conduct yourself in the manner that many of them did when they stormed the Capitol.”

As he braces for another re-election run in 2022, Fitzpatrick said he worries about the future of American democracy.

“If you listen to what our adversaries say … when they say the only way you are going to take down America is by turning American on American, any time I see that happening we are playing right into that and we are putting our democracy at risk.”

Email: Jciavaglia@couriertimes.com Twitter: @jociavaglia

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-NY: 'This is going to be bad'

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney talks about the Jan. 6 Insurrection at the U.S. Capital
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney on the dangers faced and the threat to democracy due to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Seth Harrison, Seth Harrison/USA Today Network

He had planned to head to his office, but got a call late that morning saying Pelosi wanted all Democratic leaders on the floor. 

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney could see something was wrong as he pulled into the Capitol parking lot. Metal barriers that looked like bike racks had been deployed. Hostile-looking Trump supporters were milling around. Maloney decided instead to park in the garage at his House office building a few blocks away.

The trouble began early in the certification of each state’s electoral votes, as Republicans were challenging Joe Biden’s victory in Arizona. Maloney was watching MSNBC on his phone and could see protesters massing outside. Then they broke through the barriers and streamed up the Capitol steps. 

“This is going to be bad,” Maloney told people around him.

The Hudson Valley Democrat, who also heads the party's congressional campaign committee, still didn’t think the crowd would get inside.

But a security officer soon came to the front of the chamber and told members tear gas had been deployed and they should take out the head coverings from under their seats. Maloney, after eight years in Congress, had no idea they were there. The hoods are stowed for protection in case of a biological or chemical weapon attack. 

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-NY
Seth Harrison/The Journal News
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-NY
He (then-President Trump) called those people to Washington and sent them down to the Capitol, and there should be accountability for that. A lot of people got hurt, some people lost their lives. And we came this close to having what could have been the violent overthrow of our democracy.
Seth Harrison/The Journal News

Frantic staff members raced to secure the dozen or so entrances to the chamber, pushing desks, chairs and other furniture in front of the doors. They finished their barricades shortly before rioters began smashing the windows.

Officers trained their guns on the doors, about 20 feet from where Maloney sat in the center aisle.

Next to him, Colin Allred, a Texas congressman and former linebacker for the Tennessee Titans, had taken off his suit coat. “Hey, Colin, you getting ready to go a couple rounds with these MAGA guys?” Maloney asked, trying to lighten the mood.

“Let’s go,” Allred replied seriously. 

The chamber was surrounded.

Panic rippled through the room as some members mistook the sound of shattering glass for gunfire. Security guards began herding House members through the only safe exit, behind the rostrum. Some wore their clear, plastic hoods, but most carried them. Maloney had tried his on but found its loud fan disorienting. 

A crush of evacuees waited to descend two flights of marble stairs to reach the congressional subway. Maloney hung back, waiting for more frail members and for colleagues the rioters would recognize.

Ultimately, they rode to an office building and packed into a meeting room to wait out the siege.

They called and texted their families and workers, some of whom were trapped in terror in Capitol offices. Some cried. Some prayed.

They returned to the cleared Capitol at around 4 a.m. to finish certifying the vote. Maloney got his first COVID-19 vaccine shot later that morning and drove home to Putnam County, still unaware of the magnitude of the violence. 

Interviewed more than 11 months later, Maloney said he is still angry.

Angry at the rioters and at Trump, “for engaging in that explosive and incendiary lie that the election was stolen, without any evidence to support it, with dozens of courts — often his own judicial appointments — ruling that there was no evidence of fraud.” 

“He called those people to Washington and sent them down to the Capitol, and there should be accountability for that. A lot of people got hurt, some people lost their lives. And we came this close to having what could have been the violent overthrow of our democracy.” 

His hopes for the Jan. 6 investigation now under way?

A fully documented record of “how quickly democracy can fall apart when large numbers of Americans stop believing in it, and when they are led by a demagogue without any limits, who is so reckless and so dangerous that he will say or do anything to try to hold onto power.”

Email: cmckenna@th-record.com; Twitter: @ChrisMcKenna845

Rep. Susan Wild, D-Pa.: 'Felt like I was having a heart attack'

'Hopelessly unprepared': Rep. Susan Wild reflects on Jan. 6 Capitol riot experience
Rep. Susan Wild recounts the panic and fear she felt during the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection. "It kind of felt like I was having a heart attack."
Frank Piscani, Pocono Record

A viral photo from Jan. 6 shows Rep. Susan Wild lying on the floor of the House gallery, distress evident on her face as Colorado Rep. Jason Crow grips her right hand. Wild’s left hand is pressed to her chest; in Crow’s other hand is a gas mask.

The Pennsylvania Democrat doesn’t remember being in that position, or how long she’d been trapped in the gallery at that point.

But she knows exactly what preceded the photo. She had just gotten off a FaceTime call with her children.

“I hung up with them fairly quickly, because I wanted to make sure that I was ready to move as soon as the police said we could move. And as soon as I hung up with them, I just got this sheer panic. And it was about my kids,” Wild said.

Clay and Adrienne Wild, both adults, were watching the chaos unfold on cable news. They couldn’t be sure their mother was going to be OK.

“I was trying to reassure my kids, and they weren’t being reassured, mostly because of what they were seeing on TV, I think, but also because — what I didn’t really think about, but later realized, is that they could hear the commotion,” Wild said.

“They could hear breaking glass, they could hear pounding on the doors.”

Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., comforts Rep. Susan Wild, D-Pa., while taking cover as protesters disrupt the joint session of Congress to certify the Electoral College vote on Wednesday, January 6, 2021.
Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., comforts Rep. Susan Wild, D-Pa., while taking cover as protesters disrupt the joint session of Congress to certify the Electoral College vote on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Wild, her colleagues and a few reporters had been crawling toward an exit — crawling partly because they’d been told by Capitol police to get down.

“It’s kind of like a really tight movie theater, except there’s also steps every few seats, and metal handrails. So it wasn’t like you could just walk,” Wild said.

They had nearly reached the exit when Capitol police stopped them: “They said, ‘We can’t let you out, there’s a new disturbance out in the hallway.’”

That was when the calls to loved ones began — to children, to spouses, to parents. Wild remembers Alabama Rep. Terri Sewell greeting her mother: “Hi, Mama.”

An 'assault on democracy': Cartwright, Wild detail evacuation from Capitol

Crow was there to take her hand, and California Rep. Lou Correa spoke to her “in a very calming kind of way.”

“And I remember thinking, ‘How do they know I’m so upset?’” Wild said. “I kind of felt like I was having a heart attack. I’ve never had a heart attack, thank God, but that’s what I thought was happening.”

When she saw the photo of that moment, her “first reaction was kind of embarrassment.” She wondered whether she had overreacted.

She hadn’t.

Crow, once an Army Ranger, said on Jan. 7 in a CNN appearance with Wild that he hadn’t “felt that way in over 15 years, since I was a Ranger in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Rep. Susan Wild, D-Pa.
Frank Piscani/Pocono Record
Rep. Susan Wild, D-Pa.
And now to hear so many of the GOP members essentially denying that it was any big deal, kind of mocking us, mocking the select committee, to me, that’s more upsetting than the actual events of that day.
Frank Piscani/Pocono Record

The “Gallery Group,” as the two dozen or so members who were trapped there on Jan. 6 call their private message thread, have become “a really close-knit group,” Wild said, speaking almost a year later at a park outside Allentown.

Mental health was a priority of Wild’s before Jan. 6, but discussions with this group over the past year have nonetheless been a learning experience.

“It makes me realize as a society how much we expect men not to be emotional, because a couple of the men in the group are maybe even more emotional than the women, and it’s really deeply affected them,” she said.

No two reactions have been quite the same.

“It’s just made me aware that people experience trauma of different kinds every single day, that we don’t really understand other people’s trauma,” Wild said.

As for Wild, she admits she has “compartmentalized” that day. But compartmentalizing is not the same as forgetting.

Two months after the attack, Crow and Wild introduced a bill to create a Jan. 6 memorial inside the Capitol.

On that day, "there was total fear on people’s faces" inside the chamber.

"And now to hear so many of the GOP members essentially denying that it was any big deal, kind of mocking us, mocking the select committee, to me, that’s more upsetting than the actual events of that day," Wild continued.

"I mean, we are taking it seriously, but some people are deniers. And that makes me wonder whether we can ever come back from it.”

Email: krubright@poconorecord.com; Twitter: @kerubright

Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-NJ: 'I was thinking of my kids'

Rep. Josh Gottheimer talks about the Jan. 6 Capitol riot
New Jersey Rep. Josh Gottheimer talks about his experience during the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol
Chris Pedota, NorthJersey.com

Josh Gottheimer came to the realization on the afternoon of Jan. 6 — after the barrage of phone alerts of a breach, after Pelosi was whisked off the House floor, after members of Congress were told to grab gas masks, then evacuate the chambers — that his final breath might be drawn in the seat of democracy.

The 46-year-old New Jersey Democrat and father of 9- and 12-year-old children said he did not understand the magnitude of the chaos, but the panicked atmosphere and knowing that protesters had breached the Capitol turned Gottheimer’s mind toward grave existential questions.

“This is open season if they get in here,” Gottheimer said.

“I was thinking of my kids,” he added. “Did I tell them I loved them this morning?”

Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-NJ
Chris Pedota/NorthJersey.com
Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-NJ
I was thinking of my kids. Did I tell them I loved them this morning?
Chris Pedota/NorthJersey.com

He found himself among roughly six dozen lawmakers running and screaming through the building’s tunnels, following Capitol police officers with their weapons drawn, he said, but unsure exactly where they were headed. He looked up to see they were in a cafeteria with glass windows showing protesters outside.

Police then shepherded Gottheimer’s group to another, secure location, where they would spend the next four to five hours sequestered as protesters stalked through the Capitol building.

Gottheimer, a former speechwriter in the Clinton White House, scribbled his thoughts on paper. When Congress reconvened that night to certify the presidential election results, Gottheimer joined his Republican co-chair of the House’s Problem Solvers Caucus, Rep. Tom Reed of New York, on the House floor.

In a rare moment of bipartisan unity, they delivered back-to-back speeches condemning the rioters, then hugged and “showed the country that nothing’s going to break us apart,” Gottheimer said.

In this image from video, Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., right, listens as Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., speaks as the House reconvenes to debate the objection to confirm the Electoral College vote from Arizona, after protesters stormed into the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. (House Television via AP)
In this image from video, Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., right, listens as Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., speaks as the House reconvenes to debate the objection to confirm the Electoral College vote from Arizona, after protesters stormed into the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. (House Television via AP) AP

Since the insurrection, Gottheimer and about 20 other lawmakers have kept in touch through a text message thread called the “gallery group” — named for the section of the House chamber from which they were forced to evacuate.

He said not everyone is “politically aligned” and their conversations are of a “different nature” because of their connection to Jan. 6.

The maxim “time heals all wounds” doesn’t apply universally — in fact, it’s been the opposite for Gottheimer. Some members sought counseling after that day, but Gottheimer said he resisted.

In the Fifth District he represents, which stretches in a cocked L-shape from the liberal bastion of Bergen County to the conservative redoubts of Sussex and Warren counties, it’s best to be seen working for your constituents. So he focused his attention on his day job.

More: How does Gottheimer navigate the middle of America's political minefield?

But months later he attended a drill at the Capitol simulating an attack “to make sure, God forbid, that happened again” people would be better equipped to respond, Gottheimer said.

That’s when he says it hit him hard, with all the indicators of a panic attack: a racing heart, difficulty breathing.

“I just got out. I was like, ‘I’m getting out of here. I don’t need to be going through this again,’” Gottheimer said. “It was the first time I actually dealt with what I’d been through and what everyone had been through.”

And he still hasn’t gone through it all. He hasn’t gone back to watch the speech he gave on the House floor. Same for the iPhone video he took amid the mayhem earlier that day.

So, for now at least, Jan. 6 represents more of an ideal than a reflection point to Gottheimer.

“The president became the president. The country did what it had to do,” he said. “So my memory is that democracy worked.”

Email: racioppi@northjersey.com Twitter: @dracioppi

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