By Deepti Govind
It was just last Tuesday, July 28, that the House select committee formed to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol convened its first hearing. At that hearing, the entire nation heard the emotional testimony of four police officers who were present at the insurrection, defending the building against the mob. Their accounts told of how they were beaten, taunted with racial insults, subjected to threats including “kill him with his own gun,” and how they thought they were going to die.
Now, almost exactly a week later, news media is reporting that two more police officers who responded to the Jan. 6 insurrection have died by apparent suicide. With that, the total number of officers who were at the Capitol during the rioting and are known to have committed suicide afterwards since stands at four, reports add.
Officer Gunther Hashida, assigned to the Emergency Response Team within the Special Operations Division, was found deceased in his residence on Thursday, July 29, according to a statement given to CNN from Metropolitan Police Department spokesperson Kristen Metzger. Only two weeks before that, i.e., on July 10, Metropolitan Police Officer Kyle DeFreytag had been found dead, according to the department’s public information officer Sean Hickman.
Hashida had joined the Metropolitan Police Department in 2003, and DeFreytag had been with the department since November 2016, CNN says. Hashida is survived by his wife Romelia, three children, a sister, and other members of a “wonderful family,” according to an online fundraising campaign established in his memory, the Guardian reported.
The other two officers who are known to have committed suicide and were at the Capitol on Jan. 6 were Metropolitan Police Officer Jeffrey Smith, who died several weeks after the riot, and US Capitol Police Officer Howard Liebengood, who died days after the insurrection. Smith was a 12-year veteran of the force, while Liebengood was a 16-year veteran. It was towards the end of January that the force first confirmed that two officers had taken their own lives after the insurrection.
Another Capitol Police officer, Brian D. Sicknick, suffered strokes and died of natural causes one day after responding to the attack. But even in Sicknick’s case, the D.C. medical examiner noted that “all that transpired played a role in his condition.”
In total, 138 Capitol Police and D.C. Metropolitan Police officers were injured in the attack, according to the New York Times. Those, however, are physical injuries and don’t account for several others who may be facing post-traumatic stress disorder or may be battling other mental health issues as a result of that fateful day.
The Jan. 6 insurrection has been described as “the worst violence at the Capitol since the British invasion in the War of 1812.” According to the testimony of one of the officers at the hearing on July 28, rioters wielded a range of weapons that included police shields, batons, sledgehammers, flag poles, Taser devices, chemical irritants, metal pipes, rocks, broken table-legs, and metal guard-rails.
Well over 500 people are facing criminal charges for their roles in the rioting, according to an average tally of several media reports. “That day continues to be a constant trauma for us literally every day, whether because [of] our physical or emotional injuries or both,” Capitol Police Sergeant Aquilino Gonell told the committee at the hearing last week.