“It was almost surreal,” said Brent Lightner, “that our house was being evacuated for a bomb threat.”
Lightner lives just a few doors down from the headquarters of the Republican National Committee (RNC). His home was evacuated shortly around 1 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 6.
At approximately 1 p.m. on Jan. 6, law enforcement agencies received reports of a suspected pipe bomb at the headquarters of the RNC (310 First St. SE). A second similarly-described pipe bomb was reported at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) (430 South Capitol St. SE) around 1:15 p.m.
Lightner wasn’t at home when Capitol Police knocked at the door to evacuate. But his wife and 6 and 9 year-old sons were at home, together with two other students in their virtual learning pod and the pod leader, a college student.
All were evacuated as Lightner watched officers approach the door through an app on his phone.
“They [the officers] were like, “you have to get out right now, and there’s no time to get anything”,” Lightner said. The family went to a friend’s house a few blocks away to wait and see what would happen, remaining there for about four hours.
Tightened security has become part of the family’s life. “We share an alley with the RNC, so anytime the president comes over, they corden everything off, because he usually goes in the back door.” Lightner said.
Reports of ‘suspicious packages’ have happened before. In the fifteen years Lightner has lived in his home, he says they’ve shut down his alley four or five times to investigate suspicious packages. Most are usually cleared in about fifteen minutes.
The #FBI is seeking information about the person(s) responsible for the placement of suspected pipe bombs in D.C. Do you recognize this person? A $50,000 reward is available. Call 1-800-CALL-FBI with information or submit tips https://t.co/NNj84wkNJP. https://t.co/946jU0n3qJ pic.twitter.com/aiK7Z9MctA
— FBI Washington Field (@FBIWFO) January 19, 2021
But Lightner knew this time was not routine. “Given everything that was going on that day, we took it a lot more seriously than we might have some other time,” he said. “When they started bringing the robots in, that’s how we knew this one was different, that they were taking it pretty seriously.”
From where they sheltered, Lightner and his neighbors followed activity in the alley from their security cameras, sharing footage between them via text. They watched as the robots investigated and as the bomb was ‘blown apart’ by a water jet.
Lightner said that he wasn’t worried about returning home once the bomb was cleared. But he said his wife was “rightfully concerned” about the fact that there was a pipe bomb in the back of the house. The family later learned that a truck containing Molotov cocktails was parked in front of their house.
“A live bomb in the back, molotov cocktails in the front –it’s a pretty intense situation for a residential area,” he said.
Lightner said he felt fairly certain the unrest at the Capitol would not spill over into residential areas; his wife was less sure. Still, they decided to return home around dinner time the evening of Jan. 6, fearing streets might be shut down and they could be locked out of their home.
As the inauguration approached and fencing went up around them, they decided to leave town to escape the security. “It’s a good little get away,” Lightner said from Maryland, where the families is enjoying the outdoors for a few days.
They’ll be back after Joe Biden is sworn in, however. The family is cognizant that living so close to the Capitol Building comes with risks. “But I refuse to live in fear,” Lightner said.
Lightner and his neighbors shared their home surveillance video with the FBI as officers tried to determine the path taken by the man who planted the bomb. The suspect passed the front of Lightner’s home on C Street, and the FBI collected four to five days of footage.
If you have surveillance footage from the vicinity, contact the FBI’s toll-free tip line at 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324), or submit tips online at fbi.gov/USCapitol.