May. 27, 2006 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON - In the end, construction noise, not gunfire, was the likely Capitol Hill culprit.
That was the "plausible explanation" a Capitol Police spokeswoman said officers were looking at after a phoned-in report of gunfire Friday set off a day of chaos and confusion.
"There were some workers who were working in the area of the Rayburn garage in the elevator area, and in doing their routine duties, they made some sort of a noise that sounded like shots fired," said Sgt. Kimberly Schneider, a spokeswoman.
The gunfire report originated with Rep. Jim Saxton, R-N.J., who had his staff call Capitol Police.
"I heard what I thought to be between six and ten shots. It sounded exactly like gunfire to me," Saxton told Fox News Channel.
The call led police to briefly seal the Capitol and spend several hours searching the largest House office building floor by floor as staff members and a few lawmakers were kept inside.
Outside the building, officers with rifles stood by and ambulances arrived. But in the end, police said there were no arrests, injuries or, apparently, gunfire.
"Right now we want to err on the side of caution," Schneider had said before the all-clear, which came at midafternoon, hours after the first report. "Lives could be at risk. If we have a gunman in the building, we certainly want to find him. It's premature to assume that it may not be a gunman."
The Senate was in session at the time, but the House was not as most lawmakers had left for the Memorial Day recess.
The search was a complicated one. The building, which covers a long city block, is connected to a second office building by an underground tunnel. That building, in turn, is connected to the Capitol by a second underground tunnel.