Rep. Susan Wild Explains the Story Behind Viral Photo of Her ‘Panic’ Inside Capitol Siege
Fearing for their lives, Reps. Susan Wild and Jason Crow made calls to their families
The photo capturing the point when Congress members feared the worst as insurrectionists were close to breaching the floor of the House of Representatives showed a prone Rep. Susan Wild being comforted by Rep. Jason Crow in the gallery.
"I remember that photo was taken right after talking to my kids, and that had the effect of making me really panicky," Wild, 63, tells PEOPLE for this week's special report about the insurrection. "When Jason took my hand, I remember thinking, how is he so calm?"
The Pennsylvania Democrat notes that Crow's hand wasn't sweaty, and he was speaking in a comforting tone that helped ease Wild out of her state of panic.
"I was grateful that I had a former Army Ranger next to me," Wild says. "Some other members were every bit as hysterical as I was, and I'm glad I was lucky enough to be next to Jason Crow instead of someone not capable of being helpful."
As for Rep. Crow, the Colorado Democrat tells PEOPLE that he wasn't quite as calm as it might have appeared.
"I'm glad I exuded that kind of confidence because I was very nervous," Crow, 41, says. "I was very stressed. Everybody here had fear."
Crow relied on his Army training to get him through the stress and fear that he shared with others in that room. After the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, Jason served in the Army's storied 82nd Airborne Division. He led a platoon of paratroopers during the invasion of Iraq and earned the Bronze Star for his combat actions during the invasion. Shortly after returning from Iraq, he joined the Army's elite 75th Ranger Regiment, serving two additional tours in Afghanistan as part of the Joint Special Operations Task Force before his successful run for Congress.
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"I have been in a situation like this before. Now, it's been a long time, well over 15 years, but you just have to compartmentalize the fear and anxiety and just focus," Crow says. "You just go through a mental checklist of what needs to be done."
He refers to it as "Ranger mode."
"I just went back to Ranger mode," Crow says. "I put all the emotions of the moment into a little box and began to work through the situation."
Crow assessed the rioters' invasion, which he says marked "a catastrophic security failure."
"If that had been a military operation, the chain of command would have been relieved on the spot," Crow says. "I never saw anything as chaotic and disastrous, from a security perspective. And I knew we were in trouble."
He watched as the few remaining Capitol Police started locking everyone into the Chamber.
"I saw them them grabbing furniture and barricading the door," Crow says. "The entire security infrastructure had broken down, we were surrounded and trapped, and that the mob had completely encircled us."
Phone calls were being made to family members in those ticking moments as many realized they might not make it out alive.
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"Right after I saw the Capitol police lock the chamber and preparing the barricade, I made the decision to call my wife," Crow says. "I told her we were trapped, encircled, and I told her to tell the kids I love them. I thought we might have to fight our way out. She told me she loved me and asked me not to be a hero — that my obligation was to the family, to our children."
But the Ranger in him knew what he would do if the chamber was breached. Meanwhile, Wild had also decided to contact her grown children, Clay and Adrienne.
"I did have that one thought: is this going to be the last time I talk to them?" Wild says. "You know, that maternal instinct kicks in big time. I was much more worried that they would be left with, in terms of hearing my voice, what they would be left with. Was it better getting that phone call or was that phone call going to cause them more harm? And that's just a classic mom response."
Adrienne, 23, tells PEOPLE the family had been texting and talking about what was going down at the Capitol.
"I didn't really understand how bad it was. I saw the pictures but didn't really think there was any way they could get inside the building," Adrienne says. "Then mom called me with the horrible call, saying she loves me and she'll be okay. Hearing the fear in her voice, I knew that this was real."
Adrienne could hear the people screaming and the chaos of the breaking glass and see her mom hunched over on the FaceTime call.
"She just looked so vulnerable," Adrienne says. "I knew she was hiding from something."
Wild says that in those moments, she just wanted to connect with her family.
"I didn't want to scare them, but I wanted to at least have a chance to talk," Wild says. "It was pretty emotional."