WASHINGTON -- As lawmakers on Friday praised the actions of the Capitol police, authorities were still trying to determine what prompted a woman to lead police on a car chase through the nation's capital, ending with her fatal shooting outside the Capitol building.
Police say Miriam Carey, 34, drove up against a barricade at the White House on Thursday and then sped to Capitol Hill before being shot to death. Her 1-year-old daughter was in the car with her but was not harmed. Capitol police said the girl was in protective custody.
Authorities have called the episode "an isolated incident with no nexus to terrorism."
Carey, who worked as a dental hygienist in Hamden, Conn., suffered from postpartum depression following the birth of her daughter, family members told news outlets. Her mother, Idella Carey, told ABC News: "She was depressed.... She was hospitalized."
In addition, Carey's dental hygenist license expired Thursday, according to Connecticut's database records.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, said Friday that it was "still unclear what motivated" Carey, but the U.S. Capitol complex is a "target for those who hate the United States, and someone in a car is a threat.
"We know that because car bombs are so common in some parts of the world, and we’re wary of vehicles that may be used to harm innocent visitors or people who work in the U.S. Capitol building," he said on the Senate floor.
In Connecticut, authorities searched Carey’s apartment in Stamford, Conn., finding no weapons or evidence that she was angry with the government, according to the Hartford Courant.
A robot searching for bombs made a sweep through the unit Thursday night before FBI and Stamford police entered. Officers found a room with a baby’s crib and toys.
A worker who spoke on condition that he not be named told The Los Angeles Times on Friday that he had seen Carey and her baby many times when she would leave for work and "the lady seemed OK."
William Nathanson, a lawyer whose office is in the same complex in Hamden as the dental practice where Miriam Carey once worked, says he did not know her but became familiar with her because she had a practice of parking her car in the sole handicapped parking spot in the complex lot. Nathanson is responsible for enforcing parking rules in the complex, a task he was assigned by the board of directors of the complex.
He noted that Carey had a handicapped permit, valid through 2012, but he said that the time he saw her entering the office building, she showed no sign of having difficulty walking or moving.
Nathanson also said he was bothered by the fact that she would arrive before just about anyone else -- often at about 7 a.m., when there were plenty of other free parking spots, including one right next to the handicapped spot -- and then occupy the spot for the entire day until she left for home about 5 p.m.
“I didn’t think it was appropriate that she parked in that space the entire day, being an employee of the building. Because we wanted those spaces to be used for patients coming in to see doctors, or for people who were in wheelchairs or couldn’t walk,” he said. “Why take a handicapped space if you can get into the building without any problem, and if you can park right next to the handicapped space?”
Nathanson left a note on her car one day, with his name and number, asking if she would be willing to use another space; she responded by having an attorney (he cannot recall the attorney’s name) write back to Nathanson and to the office complex’s board of directors telling him to in essence "cease and desist from bothering my client.”
Nathanson said he then phoned the attorney to explain why he had requested Carey not occupy the handicapped spot all the time. He never heard from Carey, but soon after, she began parking elsewhere.
He could shed no light on her firing.
In Washington, the Secret Service had no record of Carey making threats.
The House and Senate were back to debating the government shutdown on Friday, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) opened the Senate by praising the Capitol police for their response to Thursday’s shooting outside the Capitol. He called the episode a "sobering reminder" that the police "put their lives on the line every day" to protect lawmakers, their staffs and tourists who visit the Capitol.
Reid later tweeted that Capitol police are working without pay because of the congressional standoff over legislation to fund the government. "Congress owes it to them to re-open the govt,’’ he tweeted.
Buttons were being handed out at the Capitol picturing the Capitol with the words: "Thank you Capitol police."
Times staff writer Matt Hamilton, in Los Angeles, contributed to this report.
Simon reported from Washington and Susman from Stamford, Conn.