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Panic buttons installed in Ayanna Pressley’s congressional office were torn out before rioters stormed the Capitol last week, her staff have said.
Sarah Groh, who serves as Ms Pressley’s chief of staff, was with the congresswoman when president Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the US Capitol building last Wednesday.
She told the Boston Globe that she had reached for the panic buttons installed in Ms Pressley’s office as they tried to barricade themselves in.
But, when they went to press panic buttons, Ms Pressley’s staff saw that they weren’t there, and appeared to have been ripped out.
“Every panic button in my office had been torn out - the whole unit,” Ms Groh told the paper.
She added that she could not believe why the panic buttons were removed, and that Ms Pressley’s staff had used the panic buttons in the past, including during drills.
Nor had Ms Pressley and her staff moved offices, said Ms Groh.
She went on to say that the panic buttons were installed because Ms Pressley, a member of the progressive group of House Democrats dubbed the “Squad”, had been on the receiving end of racist attacks by the US president and his supporters.
Bennie Thompson, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, asked Capitol Police to heighten the security surrounding Ms Pressley and other Democratic congresswoman in 2019, after the president wrote a series of racist tweets attacking members of the “Squad”.
Mr Trump, who was rebuked for the remarks, told the congresswomen to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
Ms Pressley had warned in response that the president’s “cruel efforts to rile up his base have serious consequences on our collective safety and well-being."
I cannot stop thinking about the “torn out” panic button in Ayanna Pressley’s office. There is so much still to learn about what happened and is happening - but it’s very bad. The Democratic women, especially women of color, are in my head and heart today.
— Jess O'Connell (@JessOConnell) January 13, 2021
Ms Groh added that she was “deeply concerned” about arriving at the Capitol Building last Wednesday, aware that Mr Trump was addressing his supporters, who were told to march on Congress with “strength”.
She added: “It felt like the heat was being turned up in terms of the rhetoric and Trump’s aims to incite violence”.
Social media users have since expressed outrage at reports the panic buttons were removed from Ms Pressley’s office, with a senior adviser to incoming US Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg saying “what happened and is happening - but it’s very bad. The Democratic women, especially women of colour, are in my head and heart today.”
Authorities announced on Tuesday that around 70 arrests had been made in relation to last week’s attack, and that “hundreds” were being investigated.
The attack led to the resignations of the head of the US Capitol police, amid criticism at the agency’s planning and response to the rioters.
According to CNN, two US Capitol Police officers have since been suspended and at least 10 more are under investigation for playing potential roles in the riot.