WASHINGTON — After graduating with honors from the University of Georgia, Caroline Edwards began a career in public relations. But in 2017, she joined the ranks of the U.S. Capitol Police, where her mission included guarding the building and keeping members of Congress safe as they conduct business inside.
That all crumpled on Jan. 6, 2021, she said during gripping testimony Thursday night at the inaugural public hearing of the U.S. House committee investigating the deadly riot that day. Edwards, an Atlanta native, said she and a handful of other officers were stationed behind bike racks that created a perimeter around the Capitol as a crowd gathered that day.
Hundreds of supporters of President Donald Trump marched to the Capitol and were starting to close in. Edwards sensed the crowd turning angry and combative.
“I know when I’m being turned into a villain,” she recalled. “And that’s when I turned to my sergeant, and I stated the understatement of the century. I said, ‘Sarge, I think we’re going to need a few more people down here.’ ”
Edwards would soon after that become the first police officer injured during the attack. The New York Times reported that her husband is also an officer but was uninjured that day. They met at work.
Someone threw a bike rack in her direction, causing her to fall backward and clip her head on concrete stairs. She blacked out but eventually came to.
Fueled by adrenaline, the petite officer went back to assist her colleagues who were trying to hold the line on the Capitol’s west side. Officer Brian Sicknick was nearby. Edwards said she looked over at him and recalled that he was turning a pale white; most of the other officers’ faces were flushed red because rioters were assaulting them with chemical sprays.
Sicknick died the next day after suffering a stroke.
That wasn’t all. At one point, Edwards backed away from the fight line and was horrified.
“What I saw was just a war scene,” she said. “It was something like I’d seen in movies. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were officers on the ground. They were bleeding. They were throwing up. I saw friends with blood all over their faces. I was slipping in people’s blood. I was catching people as they fell. It was carnage. It was chaos.”
Edwards, who was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury and recovered at her mother’s home in Atlanta, still has not returned to her previous assignment as a member of the Capitol Police First Responder Unit. Instead, she has been working a desk job and as a peer counselor to help other officers process their pain, the Times reported. Her injuries came with symptoms such as vertigo that affected her ability to walk, slow and labored speech, plus fainting spells, the Times said.
Edwards told the committee that she is still haunted by memories of that day, but that her actions were rooted in patriotism.
She said she acted in the spirit of her grandfather, a Marine who fought in the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir in the Korean War. She thinks of him, being thrown into a fight he did not foresee and living for the rest of his life with both physical and mental scars but never complaining.
Edwards hopes she made him proud.
“I am my grandfather’s granddaughter, proud to put on a uniform and serve my country,” she said. “They dared to question my honor. They dared to question my loyalty. And they dared to question my duty. I’m a proud American, and I will gladly sacrifice everything to make sure that the America my grandfather defended is here for many years to come.”