Inaugural security operation all-encompassing
By Thomas Frank, Donna Leinwand, Marisol Bello and Kevin Johnson
From magnetometers to countersnipers: Inaugural security shows its stuff
FBI: Inaugural security behind the scenes
WASHINGTON — The largest inaugural security operation in U.S. history was tested Tuesday when a record Inauguration Day crowd streamed into the nation's capital before dawn, swamping the local transit system and overwhelming some security checkpoints.
Despite the crush of people, few major incidents were reported by the heavily armed police, Secret Service agents and National Guard units. The exuberant crowd braved frigid temperatures to celebrate Barack Obama's inauguration as the 44th president of the United States.
An estimated two million people were in attendance as Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009, on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol while thousands of law enforcement officers from 58 federal, state, and local agencies provided unprecedented security. (AP Photo)
D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty estimated Tuesday's crowd at "roughly" 1.8 million, shattering the previous record of 1.2 million for President Lyndon Johnson's 1965 inauguration.
There were no inaugural-related threats in the weeks before the swearing-in, D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier has said. Yet on Tuesday, FBI and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials announced they were investigating information of "uncertain" credibility that suggested a potential threat to disrupt the day.
The information, addressed in a bulletin issued Monday night to all federal, state and local law enforcement officials nationwide, did not identify a specific method of attack, or even whether Washington was a target.
"Authorities at all levels are vigorously pursuing any lead relating to this threat information," the FBI and DHS said in a statement Tuesday, adding that the new administration had been "briefed" on the matter. The statement described "an unprecedented level of security involving more than 58 federal, state and local agencies for this inauguration, and related events." Above the Metro stations in and around Washington, spectators were welcomed to a city of concrete and steel barriers by a small army of security officers.
"I've never seen so much security in my life," said John Antone, 53, of Sacaton, Ariz.
Commotion at purple gate
The crowds mostly were calm, until thousands who had tickets for the swearing-in ceremony erupted in protest when they were shut out of a designated viewing area near the Capitol.
As President Obama's family was being introduced prior to the ceremony, the group demanded to be let in, shouting, "One, two, three, four, we don't want to wait no more. Five, six, seven, eight, open up the purple gate."
Federal officials used color-coded designations, including purple, yellow, blue, orange and silver to identify viewing locations for ticketed spectators.
"I came all the way from Detroit, and I'm mad," said April Cathey, 33. "I've been up and out here since 3:30 a.m. This is horrible; it's a disgrace."
Lourdes Cantillo, 40, of Miami, said she had waited since 6 a.m. and was still standing at the gate when the ceremony began at 11:30 a.m. "There are people here from all over, and they are really upset," Cantillo said.
Erin King had five purple tickets for her husband and three young children, but there were no discernible lines and little direction, so people just massed around the entrance. Then about 10 strangers formed a circle around the Woodbridge, Va., family and held hands, forming a barrier to ensure that her children didn't get trampled.
"It worried me, but they rallied around me," said King, 34, of the people who helped her.
Many in the section had arrived more than five hours earlier. As the swearing-in approached, some gave up and left.
Secret Service spokesman Darrin Blackford said a screening area designated for that location never opened. "We are going to research this and find out what happened," he said.
Much of the record crowd was transported downtown on D.C.'s Metrorail system, which also broke Monday's one-day record of 866,681 trips.
By 6 p.m. Tuesday, the system had recorded 930,772 trips, according to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
The commute was marred about two hours before the swearing-in when a 68-year-old Nashville woman was hurt after falling onto the tracks at a downtown station. Houston police officer Eliot Swainson, in town to help with the crowds, told her to stay in a space under the platform edge while a train passed. After she was pulled up, she was taken to a local hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, the transit authority said in a statement.
The incident temporarily closed two downtown stations.
By 5:30 a.m., tens of thousands of people had filled a wide swath of the National Mall; thousands more streamed through downtown Washington in the dark.
The atmosphere resembled an outdoor festival. People sang as they marched toward the Mall and pedestrians filled streets that were blocked off to traffic.
As word spread of the massive crowds on the Mall, some people rushed to arrive. For others, the challenge was how to escape, as massive crowds converged on overloaded Metro stations after the inaugural events.
Bud Kraus of Nutley, N.J., sat in a fold-out chair outside one Capitol-area Metro station, where he arrived after he learned others had been temporarily closed.
"I overheard someone say this," said Kraus, 55. "The exit strategy was worse than Bush's."
Contributing: Oren Dorell, Alan Gomez, Kathy Kiely and Peter Eisler