Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards told the congressional committee investigating the insurrection on January 6, 2021, that the breach of the Capitol building by supporters of then-President Donald Trump felt like being in battle.
“I can remember my breath catching in my throat because what I saw was just a war scene,” said Edwards, who joined the Capitol Police force in 2017.
“It was something like I’d seen out of the movies — I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were officers on the ground. They were bleeding. They were throwing up. I saw friends with blood all over their faces. I was slipping in people’s blood. I was catching people as they fell. It was carnage; it was chaos,” she continued.
In her testimony, Edwards described the crowd outside of the Capitol as it went from calm to hostile to violent as lawmakers gathered inside to cast votes certifying Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election.
Edwards was knocked unconscious when rioters, including many identified as Proud Boys, overturned a bike rack onto her and was later tear-gassed. She cracked her head on the steps outside the Capitol and suffered a brain injury. After regaining consciousness, she continued to try to fight against those attacking the Capitol, standing with other officers to protect the building and the members of Congress inside.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think that as a police officer I would find myself in the middle of a battle,” Edwards said. “I’m not combat-trained, and that day it was just hours of hand-to-hand combat, hours of dealing with things that were way beyond any a law officer has ever trained for. I remember that moment of stepping behind the line and seeing the absolute war zone that the west front had become.”
Republican Rep. Liz Cheney, the vice chair of the panel, thanked Edwards for her service and courage.
“Thank you for being here this evening. I know that it’s not easy to relive what happened for you and for the officers behind you and for the family members of officers in the audience this evening. But it’s really important for the country to have a full account,” Cheney said.
Cheney, of Wyoming, is one of two Republicans on the House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack. The second is Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. The panel is headed by Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi. Other members are Democrats Reps. Zoe Lofgren, Adam Schiff and Pete Aguilar of California and Reps. Stephanie Murphy of Florida, Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Elaine Luria of Virginia.
Edwards was one of two witnesses who testified before House lawmakers in an explosive first day of hearings that aired in primetime Thursday. She was assigned to the first responder unit, the first line of defense at the Capitol complex, and served as a member of the Civil Disturbance Unit, which was trained specifically to respond to mass demonstration events. The second witness was documentary filmmaker Nick Quested, who was embedded that day with the far-right Proud Boys group as they led Trump’s supporters from the White House to the Capitol.
As many as nine people died in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. An Air Force veteran was fatally shot by law enforcement as she attempted to enter the House chamber. A protester from Georgia died in a stampede. Two rioters died in the mélee after having a stroke and heart attack, respectively. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick was attacked, then collapsed and died. Four police officers died by suicide in the weeks that followed.
Edwards recalled fighting for 30 to 45 minutes on the lower west terrace alongside Sicknick, who was sprayed with a chemical substance outside the Capitol next to her. The line of officers were “grappling over bike racks and trying to hold the line” when Edwards noticed Sicknick holding his head in his hands, ghostly pale.
“My cop alarm bells went off because if you get sprayed with pepper spray, you’re going to turn red,” Edwards testified. “He turned just about as pale as this sheet of paper, and so I looked back to see what had hit him, what had happened, and that’s when I got sprayed in the eyes as well.”
Sicknick died the next day after reportedly suffering strokes.
Edwards is currently working on a master’s degree in intelligence analysis from Johns Hopkins University. She has yet to return to role in the first responders unit because of her injuries but is likely to this year, according to the House committee.
“I was called a lot of things on January 6, 2021, and the days thereafter,” Edwards said in her introductory statement Thursday night. “I was called Nancy Pelosi’s dog, called incompetent, called a hero and a villain. I was called a traitor to my country, my oath and my Constitution. In actuality, I was none of those things. I was an American standing face-to-face with other Americans asking myself many, many times how we had gotten here.”
During the two-hour hearing, Thompson and Cheney delivered opening statements, focusing on those who were around Trump after his loss to Biden. They showed interviews that shed light on what his inner circle thought at the time about the election results that Trump was repeatedly and without evidence calling into question. Edwards and Quested testified and the panel showed video compilations of depositions taken from rioters who participated in the attack.
The committee next meets Monday and is expected to hold up to six days of public hearings throughout June.