Rep. Susan Wild on the 'Sheer Panic' She Felt In That Viral Photo

As told to Rose Minutaglio
·6-min read
Photo credit: Tom Williams
Photo credit: Tom Williams

From ELLE

Thousands of Donald Trump supporters stormed the nation’s Capitol building yesterday, disrupting a joint session of Congress. Some members of Congress sheltered in their Capitol Hill offices, while others inside the House chamber took cover underneath their seats. Rep. Susan Wild of Pennsylvania was one of the last people to evacuate the gallery. Below, Rep. Wild recounts in her own words the harrowing experience—and why she made one final phone call to her kids.

This time 24 hours ago I was getting ready to help certify the election. In preparation for the big day, I Zoomed with members of the Pennsylvania Democratic delegation and, in anticipation of working into the wee hours of the morning, packed a backpack with plenty of extra snacks and phone chargers. Then I slipped on my most comfortable Rothy's flats and headed to the Capitol.

That seems like an eternity ago.

When I arrived at noon, I sat on the far right side of the gallery, above the House floor, to observe proceedings until it was Pennsylvania's turn to speak. It all felt business-as-usual until Capitol police sent a series of texts.

The first was an alert about protestors.

The second text said the Capitol’s external perimeter had been breached.

The third warned of an interior breach.

I knew full well who the intruders were and what they were a part of. Groups of people in MAGA hats were waiting outside the Capitol when I arrived earlier that morning, and I'd heard of discussion on social media about them bringing weapons.

Word spread quickly through the gallery. We saw police officers running through the hallways, and then Speaker Pelosi and Leader Hoyer were accompanied off the floor by officials. We were told by the Sergeant-at-Arms to stay calm and stay in our seats. Unbelievably, we continued—but by then, no one was listening.

I was scoping out where I could duck if I needed to when, all of a sudden, police shut the gallery doors, and barricaded and locked them. We were told to check under our seats for gas masks in a sealed bag, because tear gas would be used on the intruders. Below, on the House floor, people ran away. But we were up in the gallery with no escape. Rep. Diana DeGette leaned over the railing and shouted: “What about all of us?”

Photo credit: Tom Williams - Getty Images
Photo credit: Tom Williams - Getty Images

To get to the one open door, we navigated extremely narrow aisles. It was chaotic and took an inordinately long period of time. By the time I made it to the exit, I was told I couldn’t evacuate. There had been another disturbance in the hallway and the only open door was barricaded.

I heard shouting from down below: "Get down! Get down!" So I got on my hands and knees to crawl through the gallery.

That's when people started making phone calls. Rep. Terri Sewell, who was next to me, called her husband and her mother, telling them both that she loved them. Rep. Jason Crow, who was behind me, phoned his wife.

Photo credit: ROBERTO SCHMIDT - Getty Images
Photo credit: ROBERTO SCHMIDT - Getty Images

I need to talk to my kids, I thought to myself, because I may never talk to them again.

I FaceTimed my 27-year-old son, Clay, and my 24-year-old daughter, Adrienne, to let them know I was staying as safe as possible and that I would be okay.

Clay said, “We hear gunshots and breaking glass in the background. How can you say you’re okay?

Photo credit: Mark Makela - Getty Images
Photo credit: Mark Makela - Getty Images

Something about that call prompted a panic inside me. My heart began to pound. I felt paralyzed. The only way I can describe it is "freaking out." The door was still barricaded and it sounded like bullets were ricocheting in the chamber. I felt trapped—much how I imagine an emergency on an airplane might feel. Claustrophobic. Sheer panic. The fear of what's to come.

Unlike Rep. Crow, who has been in combat before, I'd never been in this kind of situation. I must have been exhibiting signs of extreme panic, because he grabbed my hand and tried to calm me down.

Photo credit: Samuel Corum - Getty Images
Photo credit: Samuel Corum - Getty Images

I lost my right Rothy's shoe when we were finally rushed out, so I hopped down hallways and stairwells—places I’ve never seen in the Capitol before—to a large committee meeting room. We were held there for six hours.

Rep. Crow somehow managed to track down my shoe. Not only was he my personal hero that day, but he also assisted Capitol police with the evacuation and suggested we remove our Congressional pins so we wouldn’t be identified as members of Congress if we encountered perpetrators. Interestingly, one of my African American colleagues, also a brand-new member of Congress, felt safer keeping his pin on.“I don’t want to take it off," he told me, "because I don’t want the police not to know that I’m a member."

When it was first announced we would return to finish the business of certifying the election, my first thought was, “Are you kidding me? I mean, how do we go back onto the House floor?”

But I quickly realized we needed to get this thing done.

Photo credit: Tom Williams - Getty Images
Photo credit: Tom Williams - Getty Images

It took me forever to fall asleep last night. My mind was racing. I couldn't stop thinking about how we can't just forget about this. There must be an investigation, both internal and external. My colleagues and I have had many discussions about the President's role in this. There have also been talks about future security concerns.

How were so many signs ignored? Why did the people charged with securing our country not do something in advance? Were Capitol police adequately staffed? Did someone on the inside know beforehand? I’m not making an accusation, but that’s part of what needs to be fleshed out.

There is a sense that the intruders got in way too quickly and knew the layout very well. Many of us still have trouble finding Speaker Pelosi’s office, yet they managed to find it without difficulty.

I hope to see some accountability, and soon. Americans should rest easy knowing we don’t allow rampant disregard of our democratic institutions, either by intruders or by the people who instigate them.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

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