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1954 Shooting at the U.S. Capitol

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Gunfire erupted on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives on March 1, 1954, when four Puerto Rican nationalists shot at random from the spectators’ galleries, shouting “Viva Puerto Rico libre!”—“Long live free Puerto Rico!” Five members of Congress were injured, one seriously.

“Guard Congress After Gunfire,” Boston Daily Globe, March 2, 1954, p. 1

The U.S. had annexed Puerto Rico in 1898 and the relationship between the island and the U.S. government had long been in contention. While some Puerto Ricans sought to remain a territory or become a state, others argued for independence. The nationalists who staged the attack on the Capitol supported the most extreme interpretation of the latter—use violence to draw attention to their demand for immediate Puerto Rican independence. 

The surprise attack was mounted by four members of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party—Lolita Lebrón, Rafael Cancel Miranda, Irvin Flores Rodriguez, and Andres Figueroa Cordero. At the time, the Capitol had few security protocols and the four would-be assassins easily entered the gallery armed with handguns. About 2:30 p.m., they indiscriminately opened fire onto the House Chamber, waving an unfurled Puerto Rican flag. 

“HELD IN ATTACK ON CONGRESSMEN,” Atlanta Daily World (Atlanta, GA), March 4, 1954, p. 2
“Aftermath of Weird Drama in Washington,” Boston Daily Globe, March 2, 1954, p. 15

Representative Alvin M. Bentley (R-MI) took a bullet to the chest and was the most severely wounded. Four other representatives were also shot: Ben F. Jensen (R-IA) was shot in the back, Clifford Davis (D-TN) was hit in the leg, George Hyde Fallon (D-MD) was shot in the hip, and Kenneth A. Roberts (D-AL) was hit in the knee.  

“The Five Representatives Who Were Wounded in House Shooting Yesterday,” New York Times, March 2, 1954, p. 16

Those on the House floor quickly moved into action. Congressional pages carried the wounded to safety. As the shooters attempted to escape, three of them were overpowered by visitors, police, House staff, and Congressman James Van Zandt of Pennsylvania, who personally apprehended Rafael Miranda. The fourth shooter, Irvin Flores, escaped, but was captured later that day.

The four gunmen were tried and sentenced to more than 49 years in federal prison. Cordero, terminally ill, had his sentence commuted on humanitarian grounds by President Jimmy Carter in October 1977 and died in 1979. President Carter granted clemency for the remaining three later in 1979. Lebrón, the alleged ringleader and lone woman shooter, went on to become a revered figure among Puerto Ricans, and died in 2010. Miranda died recently on March 2, 2020.

Today, bullet holes from the shooting are still visible in the House Chamber.

“Carter Commutes Terms of Four Puerto Ricans,” Hartford Courant (Hartford, CT), September 7, 1979, p. 1
Alfred D. Sieminski (NJ). “There Was a Shooting in the House Chamber Today, Mr. Speaker.” Congressional Record 100: Part 2 (March 1,1954) p. 2444. Available from:

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* The Chronicling America historic newspapers online collection is a product of the National Digital Newspaper Program and jointly sponsored by the Library and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Comments (6)

  1. put me on your mailing list

    • Art, you can subscribe to our blog by clicking on the Subscribe link a the top and then choosing Headlines and Heroes from the list. You can choose to subscribe to either an RSS feed or email.

  2. We get no final word on Irvin Flores Rodriguez. Is he still alive? Thank you!

    • According to a New York Times obituary (March 21, 1994, p. B10), Irvin Flores Rodriguez died on March 20, 1994 in a suburb of San Juan, Puerto Rico. The obit noted that Mr. Flores had undergone surgery for a brain tumor the year prior and had been in a coma for three months.

  3. Is amaizing the sentence, was lot of years in jail. Today you can kill a capitol police,and been call a patriot. Hor f…racist America is

  4. Why did Carter give clemency to the remaining shooters, after he commuted the sentence of the terminally ill shooter? They shot 5 Congressmen! They were sentenced to 49 years in prison and served half. Why let them out? But now we have some people who didn’t even go into the Capitol on Jan. 6 and they are sentenced to many years in prison… for less than trespassing!

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