A photographer at the scene of the U.S. Capitol riot describes the invasion and urgent triage care for wounded officers defending America's seat of democracy

By Wendy Grossman Kantor
January 09, 2021 07:00 PM
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Watching rioters jump through shattered windows at the U.S. Capitol reminded photographer Kevin Dietsch of a zombie movie.

"They just kept coming and coming," says Dietsch, a staff photographer at UPI who captured the image of a rioter jumping through a first-floor window on Wednesday.

In the Capitol's crypt, Dietsch, 37, stumbled upon a police triage center. There, he photographed injured officers being carried in, or lying on the floor, and having their eyes flushed with water after confronting the mob.

"No one told me to stop taking photos or go away. I knew this was serious — in Capitol Hill, they're usually like, 'You can't take photos here,' " Dietsch says. "It was shocking that no one said anything, no one cared."

In the hallway, he saw officers in riot gear, Kevlar, gas masks and carrying paintball guns. An officer told Dietsch, "It's not safe for you. You shouldn't be here. It's very dangerous."

"She proceeded to shout at us, 'You need to leave. You need to move," he remembers.

Walking down a hallway that leads to the Senate, Dietsch wondered why the officer said it was so dangerous. "We didn't just believe her," he says.

Then, on the first floor, he heard banging on the windows — a police officer in front of him started rushing toward the window. "Right in front of me, a brick or rock went flying through the window," he says. "Next thing I knew, the whole window came smashing through."

At that moment, the officer reached for his belt. "I thought he was grabbing his gun — I thought he was going to open and start firing," says Dietsch, who ran closer to the officer and took a photo as the first protestor jumped through the window. From about six feet away, the officer sprayed the rioter in the face with mace or pepper spray.

The second rioter jumped through, touched the ground, and paused with his arms out.

"He looked like a villain or superhero busting through a wall," Dietsch recalls. He watched as dozens of rioters followed.

"It was like something out of a zombie movie. Where hordes of these rioters just kept coming and coming. It seems like one after another.... they slowly started coming toward us," he remembers.

Upstairs, in the rotunda, Dietsch heard the sounds of broken glass and watched as rioters entered Statuary Hall. "It was like a tour group coming through the Capital with Trump flags... it was very orderly and very slow," he says.

Police insisted that Dietsch find a safe place but he wanted to wait and watch. Reluctantly, he sheltered with friends in a locked office, peeking out the door. On Twitter, he saw reports of gunfire so he texted his wife.

"I kept telling myself, 'It's going to be okay.' I kept repeating, 'It's going to be okay,' " he recalls. "I was thinking, 'Is this the beginning of a coup or another civil war?' "

Dietsch worked until 4:30 a.m. the next morning, photographing members of Congress who certified the election. "It was admirable of the Senate and the House to come back into session to finish this," he says. "It showed that these politicians are not gonna be shaken by these rioters."