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`Fallen heroes’ to lie in state at Rotunda

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Two Capitol officers cut down in a burst of gunfire will be honored Tuesday at a special ceremony at the historic building where they worked and died. Their remains will lie in the Rotunda, where the coffins of presidents and commanding generals have rested.

Capitol Police Chief Gary Abrecht announced plans to memorialize the two "fallen heroes" as the suspect in the shooting, Russell E. Weston Jr., lay in a hospital bed in serious condition.Coffins bearing the remains of officers Jacob J. Chestnut and John Gibson will be in the Capitol Rotunda early Tuesday and remain there all day.

"Those wishing to pay their respects may file past the remains," Abrecht said, speaking at a news conference a few yards from where the gunman had entered the Capitol 48 hours earlier. An afternoon service is planned, with members of Congress, other officers and families of the slain men in attendance, he said.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott are expected to speak at the event, officials said. A Clinton administration official also was to speak, but there was no immediate word on whether President Clinton or Vice President Al Gore would attend.

In Aspen, Colo., White House spokesman Barry Toiv said: "The president wants to participate in honoring the slain officers, but we're still working out the details."

Abrecht said Gibson, 42, will be buried Thursday at a location to be announced. Chestnut, 58 and an Air Force veteran, will be interred the following day at Arlington National Cemetery.

The two Capitol police officers died of the wounds when the gunman, a loner with a history of mental illness, burst into the Capitol Friday afternoon and opened fire with a .38-caliber handgun.

The condition of Weston, 41, from Rimini, Mont., was upgraded from critical to serious during the day. "His cardiac status has improved," said D.C. General Hospital spokeswoman Donna Lewis Johnson. Weston was shot in the chest, arms, thigh and buttocks and brought down in a furious exchange of gunfire with Gibson.

Authorities arranged a hearing in absentia for Weston on Monday in federal court, a few blocks from the Capitol. Papers filed in court in the District of Columbia on Saturday charged him with killing the two officers; the purpose of Monday's hearing is to bring the case into federal court.

While events were set in motion to honor the fallen - and bring the suspect to justice - tourists roamed the Capitol by the hundreds, some pausing before a pile of flowers that has grown on the steps outside in tribute to Gibson and Chestnut.

"It's awful that it happened," said John Kurzawa, a 16-year-old from Northford, Conn. who was touring with his family. "I wish it hadn't happened. I hope as a nation we can get over it."

The repercussions were already setting in, though, from the grief of the families to the shaken colleagues of Chestnut and Gibson who were being offered counseling, to talk of enhanced security at a building prized for openness.

Among the options was revived talk of construction of a Capitol visitors center, possibly underground, that could serve as a way station for tourists as well as provide for greater security.

Still, Abrecht, chief of the Capitol police, said there was little that could have been done in the way of security to prevent Weston's attack that would have been acceptable to members of Congress and the public.

"He was prepared to go in there and die and take anybody with him," Abrecht said on CNN's "Late Edition." "He never got more than 20 feet inside" the building.

The chief said the slain officers and others who rushed to the scene "were heroic in every way."

Officials have said Chestnut tried to stop Weston when he burst past the metal detector at a first-floor entrance to the building Friday afternoon. Chestnut was shot in the head. A second officer who had gone to get a wheelchair for a tourist then fired at Weston, who ran around the corner and opened the private door leading to a suite of offices occupied by the House Republican Whip, Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas.

Gibson, assigned to protect DeLay, shouted at numerous people in the suite to take cover and exchanged gunfire at short range with the gunman. Both officer and gunman fell, Gibson mortally wounded.

A tourist who was shot in the episode, 24-year-old Angela Dickerson of suburban Virginia, was released from the hospital Saturday.

In a series of meetings Sunday, congressional officials were in touch with the survivors of the two men as they attempted to work out the details of several days of observances.

Legislative business that had been scheduled in the House on Monday will be replaced by tributes to Chestnut and Gibson, officials said.

Numerous high-ranking government officials have lain in state in the Rotunda since Abraham Lincoln's casket was brought there in 1865. Others similarly honored include Presidents John F. Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower, as well as Gens. John J. Pershing and Douglas MacArthur.