Jacob Chestnut and John Gibson are two of the only four private citizens who have ever been given the honor of lying in honor in the Capitol Rotunda. Billy Graham is lying in honor during a public ceremony today, and Rosa Parks has also been given that honor. But what did Chestnut and Gibson do to be given this rare honor? Here’s what you need to know.
1. Chestnut and Gibson Stopped a Gunman in the Capitol
Officer Jacob J. Chestnut and Detective John M. Gibson were both Capitol Police Officers who were killed in the line of duty on July 24, 1998. They were the very first people whose remains lay in honor in the Rotunda. Prior to them, only government officials were given that honor, called “lying in state.”
On that tragic day, an armed man — Russell Eugene Weston, Jr. — stormed past the Capitol security checkpoint with a Smith & Wesson revolver. He shot Chestnut in the back of the head. The Capitol Police engaged the man in gunfire, and a tourist was injured. The gunman ran toward the doors where Tom DeLay’s office was. Gibson was part of DeLay’s security detail, and he exchanged gunfire with the man, trying to stop him. He was fatally wounded in the exchanged, but his actions allowed other officers to stop the gunman.
The House and Senate passed a concurrent resolution authorizing the memorial service at the Rotunda.
Chestnut and Gibson were buried at the Arlington National Cemetery with full honors. DeLay said their deaths represented “the sacrifices of thousands of police officers across the Nation who do their duty to serve and protect the public, sometimes under great abuse, sometimes under great disregard, and many times people take them for granted. It all comes together when an incident like this happens and we realize how much we owe to police officers all over this country.”
Newt Gingrich said the men were “true heroes of democracy. … If not for their quick and courageous action, more than just one innocent civilian could have been injured.”
2. The Gunman Said He Stormed the Capitol to Stop Cannibals
In a bizarre set of circumstances, the gunman Russell Eugene Weston Jr. told a psychiatrist that his shooting rampage was supposed to prevent the United States from being destroyed by cannibals. The gunman believed he would be infected by “Black Heva” if he didn’t come to D.C. The disease, he believed, was spread by cannibals’ victims’ corpses. He believed a “ruby satellite” that could stop the cannibalism was being kept at the Capitol in a Senate safe. He believed Chestnut and Gibson were cannibals trying to stop him.
Two years before the shooting, Weston showed up at the CIA claiming that Bill Clinton was a “Russian clone” brought to the U.S. to create a communist coup. He believed that he was a clone too. Weston believed he was perfectly healthy. Weston’s parents said he’d struggled with mental illness for two decades, and believed that Clinton had dispatched the Navy Seals to kill him. Weston once even said that he would kill President Clinton first, and Secret Service interviewed him in 1996 about it. He also blamed Clinton for JFK’s assassination.
Weston was found mentally incompetent to stand trial in 1999. He’s still jailed at the Federal Medical Center in Butner, North Carolina, Politico reported. In 2008, he was given a hearing on his mental status, but he failed to be found competent.
3. DeLay Said Gibson Was Like a Brother To Him
To this day, DeLay still misses Gibson. He was his security officer, but also like a brother, he told Fox 26. “Of course I miss John Gibson dearly. He was one of my security officers, but at the same time he was like a brother to me.” That moment made him realize just how dangerous it was to be a government official. He said that today, leadership needs to steer conversations to be more civil, so they can discuss opposing viewpoints without vilifying the opposition.
Tony Ruby, an aide to DeLay, said he believed they would not have lived if it hadn’t been for Gibson. Gibson, 42, was married and had three children. He had been on the force for 18 years. His wife, Evelyn, was the niece of Rep. Joe Moakley.
One of Gibson’s neighbor’s said they talked a few days before the shooting about a D.C. police officer who was shot and killed at a nightclub. Gibson said he had never had to use his weapon, but if he did “it would be tunnel vision” and he would stay focused on what he had to do. Gibson was known for being generous, always willing to share with others. He was a sports fan who loved local teams, and he was devout and religious.
4. Chestnut Was Just Months Away from Retirement
Jacob J. Chestnut, known as “J.J.,” had the less glamorous job of the two men, standing guard at the Capitol entrance. But the 18-year veteran took his job seriously. Friends said he was “diligent and precise.” He was also just months away from retirement.
Chestnut, 58, was married. He left behind a large family. He had two children from his current marriage and three from a previous marriage. He was a Vietnam veteran who had been nominated as Capitol Police Officer of the Year. He lived with his wife, Wendy, daughter Karen, and granddaughter Jasmine, who was only 3 when he died. His wife was a computer programmer at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital.
Before joining the Capitol Police, Chestnut had been in the Air Force for 20 years. He and Wendy met when he was stationed in Taiwan. Neighbor Jerome Goldring told the Washington Post that Chestnut was the type of man who would do anything for you. “He was just a tremendous neighbor and a tremendous person. … Everybody should have neighbors like him.” He loved his work, kept a vegetable garden, and always had a big smile.
5. Members of Congress Still Remember & Honor Them
All these years later, members of Congress still honor the two men’s sacrifice. The video above shows how they were honored in the Rotunda. The next video shows Congressmen speaking about their grief over these two men’s passing, shortly after it happened:
And next is a video where Mitch McConnell remembers them publicly in 2013: