It’s possible that 7-year-old Abigail Evans will always have that small, squishy, foam rubber souvenir of the Capitol Dome.
When she’s a teenager, perhaps 30 or 40 years from now, maybe even when Abigail’s a senior citizen. She’ll likely recall how she fiddled with that model of the Capitol Dome as she sat inside the Capitol Rotunda itself, and watched the nation salute her father.
U.S. Capitol Police Officer Billy Evans gave his life defending the Capitol on Good Friday. Noah Green plowed a blue Nissan Altima over Evans as he guarded the north entrance to the Capitol. Green also hit USCP Officer Kenny Shaver, crashed the Altima into a steel barricade, and leaped from the vehicle, waving a machete.
Lord only knows what would come next.
Other officers shot and killed Green.
Shaver survived, but Evans did not. He was killed right there on the Senate concrete. The very post at which he stood daily, greeting senators, waving in staff members. Evans smiled at yours truly on his last morning on Earth as I trudged up Capitol Hill and flashed my orange press credential in his direction.
And so Congress paid Evans one of its highest homages inside the very Capitol he died protecting.
It was the second time the Capitol Rotunda shifted into a sanctuary for mourning this year. Another salute to an officer who died defending democracy. Evans became the sixth American to “lie in honor” in the center of the Capitol Rotunda. Protocol officials swaddled Evans’s casket with a crisp American flag, resting 180 feet beneath a fresco which depicts George Washington rising into heaven.
House Chaplain Margaret Grun Kibben delivered the invocation for Evans’ service. Kibben began with the same, polite petition she uses daily to begin daily House sessions.
“Will you pray with me?” asked Kibben of those in the Rotunda.
Evans’ body lay at the literal center of American democracy. It’s the same spot where his colleague, USCP Officer Brian Sicknick, laid in honor in February. Sicknick died from injuries the day after the January 6 riot. This is the same geometric spot where Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Henry Clay and Ronald Reagan also lay after they passed on.
“Sanctify this place, for this hallowed hall is stained with our tears. Its luster, dulled by our grief,” prayed Kibben in the Rotunda.
Evans’s daughter Abigail wore a crushed velvet dress. She sat in a black chair, feet straining to reach the marble floor. Abigail embraced her mother, Shannon Evans, wiping away her tears. Her nine-year-old brother Logan clutched a stuffed animal.
Capitol Police officers and National Guard troops saluted as an honor guard looked on at Evans casket.
During her remarks, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D.-Calif., told the assembly that Evans’s mother expressed concern “for the children.”
President Biden made his second appearance in the Rotunda this year. He visited in February to honor Sicknick.
The President drew from tragedy that struck his own family over the years. He made it clear to the Evans family that their anguish was familiar.
“I have some idea of what you’re feeling like,” said Biden.
Mr. Biden’s 1-year-old daughter Naomi and first wife Neila died just before Christmas, 1972 in a car crash. His son Beau died from brain cancer in 2015.
“You know everybody means well. You feel like saying, ‘You have no idea,’” said the President.
Few grasp exactly how this anguished process unfolds better than the 46th President of the United States.
Virtually no one had heard the name of U.S. Capitol Police Sergeant Kyle King. That was, until Biden spoke of King in the Capitol Rotunda.
“Sergeant Kyle King,” said Mr. Biden. “I’m sorry you had to make the call. That telephone call that every family dreads when they have a son or daughter, husband, wife, brother, sister in uniform. Every morning they pin that badge on, go to work and expect to come home. In the back of your minds, ‘We’ll never get that call.’”
The president told the Evans family to take note of a “fragrance” or a “memory” or a “circumstance.” It would remind them of Billy.
“I promise you. It’s going to come. It just takes a while. It takes a while,” said President Biden. “But when it comes, you’ll know. Because he’s still with you. He’s still in your heart.”
As Pelosi spoke, Abigail toyed with her small, foam rubber Capitol Dome. Suddenly, the Dome spilled out of Abigail’s hands. It spiraled on the Rotunda floor like a top, finally resting near the President’s chair. Abigail went to grab it, but Biden sprung from his seat. Biden scooped the miniature Dome off the marble. He casually offered it back to Abigail like he was handing her a piece of chewing gum.
“A greater compliment does no one have than the President of the United States, looking after your toys,” observed Pelosi.
That’s the “fragrance” or the “memory” or the “gesture” Biden spoke of.
An older Abigail might place that souvenir Capitol Dome in a safe place at home. A cherished place. Perhaps next to a picture of her fallen father. Or by an American flag from his funeral. And Abigail will remember, that as her dad laid in honor in the Capitol Rotunda, she dropped that foam rubber replica on the floor.
And then the most powerful person on the planet handed the toy back to her.
This was a gesture Officer Evans may have appreciated. He liked to play and toys, too. Evans built with Legos. Dueled with lightsabers from Star Wars. Enjoyed mini golf.
“To know Billy Evans was to know – to borrow from Shakespeare – a ‘fellow of infinite jest,’” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). “His childhood friends will tell you that Billy capitalized, literally, on every opportunity for a joke.”
Schumer observed that “through all of life’s tragedies, Billy could search every moment for that spark of joy. So can we.”
And there was that “infinite jest.” That “spark of joy.” An errant toy, rolling around on the Capitol Rotunda floor during a moment of grief – suddenly snatched up by the President of the United States – and returned to a sad, 7-year-old girl.
A squishy, foam rubber toy.
Now, an indelible tribute, to a U.S. Capitol Police Officer and his defense of democracy.