The Capitol Police and the Scars of the January 6th Riot

Edwards was one of many on the force who suffered concussions; of the seven or eight officers in Gonell’s squad who served on the 6th, he counted three, and a possible fourth. By March, Devan Gowdy was past the acute phase of his concussion: sleeping around the clock, waking from nightmares that left him pumping with feelings of murderous rage. Still, he knew he was not himself, or was not the self he was before the 6th. An unusually sensitive person — his best friend, growing up, was the elderly antiques dealer who lived next door — he had turned into someone who could be roiled with fury. He often woke up weeping, turning to his fiancée in bed to tell her how scared he was, even if he couldn’t identify any threat.

Nicole’s husband was also showing uncharacteristic volatility, his anger sometimes explosive. She did not hold her husband responsible for it. She thought that if she could just be even more organized, control any possibility of chaos — as if the chaos of life with three kids could be controlled — she could spare her husband exposure to stress, spare them all his reactions to that stress. So she stayed up late, folding every piece of laundry, writing more lists for the coming week, making sure that her son’s baseball uniform was where it needed to be so there would be no last-minute panic, no hassle, no outbursts.

In early spring, some of the officers who had been on leave were starting to return. But her husband was still receiving treatment for his brain injury, mental exercises to help restore his balance that left him nauseated and drained. He had memory lapses; he had frustration with those memory lapses. Complicated paperwork like the kind she was always churning through overwhelmed him quickly, so she stopped trying to explain the mind-numbing, arcane logistics of his medical care. He was still on the group texts that his friends from the North Barricade Crew sent around regularly, but because he had been gone so long, he didn’t always know what they were talking about.

On April 2, Nicole’s family and in-laws were at Luray Caverns, outside Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, trying to take her husband’s mind off his troubles, when she saw him check his phone. Then he was down, a tall lumbering man with a long beard, fallen to his knees. Texts were coming in: There had been an attack at the Capitol. Two men at the north barricade were hurt, one much worse than the other. One of them was Billy Evans. It was a knife — no, it was a man with a gun. No, a car drove into them, colliding most directly with Evans. That was confirmed. Nicole’s own phone started pinging with messages from other officers and lieutenants: She needed to prepare herself — her husband — for the worst. Her husband told his parents to take the children to the gift shop, and then he stayed where he was, weeping uncontrollably over a guardrail. He regained his composure enough to get into the car, but that was impossible to maintain when, a few minutes into the drive, he got the text: Billy was gone.

As a matter of habit, Anton usually parked his Jeep up on Delaware Avenue, right near the north barricade where Billy Evans lost his life. He lived only 15 minutes away, and he often felt, when he arrived, that he had never left work. He was still, in April, working a never-ending series of 12-hour shifts with rare days off. Especially after Evans died, a feeling of dread came over him with such force that he sometimes struggled to leave his car. He tried to summon reserves of discipline. “May we pass every test,” he’d say when he pulled in, to prepare himself for the grueling day ahead. It was something he and his mom, who raised him Baptist, used to say whenever he had a big exam or another challenge, and they always said it together, three times, half chanting, half praying. Pulling the key out of the ignition, he could sometimes say it only once before he felt something give way, the emotional equivalent of his knees buckling. He’d walk toward the Capitol, pacing himself as he neared the street he needed to cross. By the time the light turned red, he had wiped his face and prepared himself to enter the building.

Anton wondered how long he could continue on the job. He had always enjoyed perfect health, but now he was having heart palpitations several times a day that forced him to stop whatever he was doing; more than once he wondered if he could be having a heart attack. His sleep was erratic, his blood pressure and cholesterol sky high.

Like many other officers, he found it a boost to morale when Caroline Edwards returned to work in May. Because of her injuries, she was assigned to a desk job, but she had also taken on an additional role that was natural for her: She was becoming a peer counselor, someone in whom officers could confide. She had already been functioning informally in that capacity, reaching out to Nicole’s husband to offer whatever she could share about traumatic brain injuries and sending Shannon Terranova, the grieving former wife of Billy Evans, thoughtful gifts for their children.

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