WASHINGTON, D.C. — A police captain born and raised in Missouri was the first witness to testify on Tuesday before a Senate committee investigating the attacks at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
U.S. Capitol Police Captain Carneysha Mendoza, who has been with the department for 19 years, shared her firsthand account of four grueling hours spent fending off mobs that breached the building.
It was not the first difficult and tragic chapter in American history that Mendoza witnessed.
The 2016 Park University graduate was also at the Pentagon on 9/11, assisting with recovery efforts as a U.S. Army soldier.
"Unfortunately I didn't save any lives, but there are certain lessons that always struck with me after 9/11. One of those lessons is that the unthinkable is always possible, so be ready," Mendoza told lawmakers.
That was a lesson she had to put to use on Jan. 6, which she described as "by far the worst of the worst" in terms of the events she has worked over the past two decades.
"We could have had 10 times the amount of people working with us and I still believe the battle would have been just as devastating," she said.
Mendoza serves as a field commander in the department's special operations division.
On Jan. 6, she was supposed to start work at 3 p.m. and was prepared for it to be a 16-hour day.
However, as Mendoza was eating lunch with her 10-year-old son around 1:30 p.m., a fellow captain called for help.
Within 15 minutes, Mendoza arrived at the Capitol to assist.
After entering the building, she saw a crowd of about 200 rioters yelling in front of her. She tried to exit and enter another door, but by that point, there were more people outside banging on the door.
"I had no choice but to proceed through the violent crowd in the building. I made my way through the crowd by yelling and pushing people out of my way until I saw Capitol police Civil Disturbance Units in riot gear in the hallway," she said.
During her testimony, Mendoza described efforts to hold a line and prevent rioters from getting further into the building.
At one point, her right arm became trapped between the crowd and a railing on the wall. Mendoza said if A CDU sergeant hadn't pulled her arm free in that moment, it definitely would have been broken.
Mendoza next made her way to the Rotunda.
"I noticed a heavy smoke-like residue and smelled what I believed to be military grade CS gas, a familiar smell. It was mixed with fire extinguisher spray deployed by rioters," she said.
According to Mendoza, rioters continued to deploy the gas in the Rotunda.
"Officers received a lot of gas exposure, which is worse inside the building than outside because there's nowhere for it to go. I received chemical burns to my face that still have not healed to this day," she added.
Mendoza assumed command in the Rotunda, calling for additional assets as officers pushed the crowd out the door. She said officers "begged for relief" as they physically held the broken door closed to prevent rioters from gaining reentry.
Mendoza also described being present for the tragic aftermath of the Capitol attack.
"The night of Jan. 7th into the early morning hours of my birthday, Jan. 8, I spent at the hospital comforting the family of our fallen officer and met with the medical examiner's office prior to working with fellow officers to facilitate a motorcade to transport Officer Sicknick from the hospital," she said.
Mendoza concluded her testimony by saying that moving forward will be difficult, but she looks forward to doing so together as an agency and as a country.