The officer who shot and killed a woman during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot has come forward after months of secrecy surrounding his identity due to reported death threats and heated Republican rhetoric about his actions.
Lt. Michael Leroy Byrd, a 28-year-veteran of the force, told NBC Nightly News on Thursday that it has been “frightening” to receive death threats for doing his job.
“They talked about, you know, killing me, cutting off my head, you know, very vicious and cruel things. … There were some racist attacks as well,” he said, calling them “disheartening because I know I was doing my job.”
In the moments leading up to the shooting of Ashli Babbitt, Byrd said: “I was very afraid. I’m hearing about the breaches of different barricaded areas, officers being overrun, officers being down.”
“Once we barricaded the doors, we were essentially trapped where we were. There was no way to retreat. No other way to get out,” he added.
Byrd said he did not regret his actions, though he called firing his weapon a “last resort.”
“I followed my training, and I spent countless years preparing for such a moment,” he said, noting that to him in that moment Babbitt “was posing a threat” to lawmakers in the House Chamber.
At that time, he said, he did not know that she was unarmed, but there had been reports of shots fired in the Capitol.
“I know that day I saved countless lives. I know members of Congress as well as my fellow officers and staff were in jeopardy and in serious danger. That’s my job.”
“I believe I showed the utmost courage on Jan. 6, and it’s time for me to do that now” in coming forward, he said.
The Capitol Police, the Justice Department, and Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police have concluded Byrd did not act improperly in shooting Ashli Babbitt as she attempted to breach the U.S. House Chamber.
In the interview, Byrd described his experience of both the anti-democratic uprising and its aftermath. Former President Donald Trump and his allies have zeroed in on Byrd as they attempted to make Babbitt into a martyr for their cause and reframe the narrative of the riot. Byrd said he and his family have received death threats.
Capitol Police officer Michael Fanone, who has been vocal about his own struggles following the riot and pressed reluctant Republicans congressmen to investigate the attempted insurrection, previously told The Daily Beast of Byrd, “He is a hero to me… He is essentially sacrificing himself at the altar of our democracy today in pursuit of the truth.”
Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI), who was trapped in the House Chamber on Jan. 6, penned a letter of support to Byrd.
“You faced a difficult choice, but I know that your actions saved the lives of countless others. You should be commended for your heroism,” Kildee wrote. “Please know that I will be forever grateful to you.” He lambasted Trump and others who have gone after Byrd, calling their attacks “sickening.”
Babbitt, 35, traveled to the D.C. rally from California, where she ran a pool supply company. A military veteran, Babbitt’s return to civilian life in 2016 coincided with a new interest in politics, her brother told The New York Times.
She became a vocal Trump supporter and, through 2020, grew increasingly sympathetic to conspiracy theories associated with the QAnon movement, her social media profiles suggested. In a post before her death, Babbitt invoked some of the theory’s slogans to hype up the Jan. 6 rally.
“Nothing will stop us,” she tweeted on Jan. 5. “They can try and try and try but the storm is here and it is descending upon DC in less than 24 hours …. dark to light!”
During the Capitol break-in, Babbitt was near the front of a group that advanced deep into the building, near where members of Congress were taking shelter. Video footage from the incident shows rioters smashing glass on a locked door. Babbitt shouted “Go, go!” apparently urging the crowd through the door, at which point rioters noticed that an officer on the other side had his gun out.
Moments after that warning, Babbitt began climbing through the broken glass, hoisted by others in the crowd. The officer fired one shot at Babbitt, striking her and sending her falling backward. Officers began administering aid, unsuccessfully. Babbitt died on the scene.
Her family has vowed to file a wrongful death suit against Byrd and the Capitol Police, alleging a coverup.
Attorney Terry Roberts, who represents Babbitt’s family, told Newsweek, “The U.S. Congress wants to protect this man. He’s got friends in high places and they want to protect him. And they’ve done a pretty good job of it… I don't think it's a proud moment for the U.S. Capitol Police or the U.S. Congress.”