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Shooting at Canada's Parliament churns up memories of 1954 U.S. Capitol attack

In this image taken moments after the shooting on March 1, 1954, (from left foreground) House Pages Bill Goodwin, Paul Kanjorski, and Bill Emerson carry a stretcher bearing wounded Representative Alvin Bentley of Michigan, to a waiting ambulance on the East Front of the Capitol.

In this image taken moments after the shooting on March 1, 1954, (from left foreground) House Pages Bill Goodwin, Paul Kanjorski, and Bill Emerson carry a stretcher bearing wounded Representative Alvin Bentley of Michigan, to a waiting ambulance on the East Front of the Capitol.  ( Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives)

For some people, the drama currently unfolding in Ottawa with one or more gunmen opening fire inside Canada’s Parliament building and other parts of the country's capital may dredge up memories of a similar event to that took place 60 years in Washington, D.C.

On March 1, 1954, four Puerto Rican nationalists – Lolita Lebrón, Rafael Miranda, Irving Flores Rodríguez and Andrés Figueroa Cordero – forced their way into the United States Capitol’s House of Representatives chamber and opened fire, injuring five U.S. lawmakers.

The Puerto Rican separatists “shouted for the freedom of their homeland as they fired murderously although at random from a spectators’ gallery just above the House floor,” the New York Times reported the day after the shooting. “House members at first thought the sounds were those of firecrackers. But as their colleagues fell or took cover as they heard the slugs hit around them, all realized what was happening.”

The four shooters were part of a group called the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, which fought for the independence of the island territory from the U.S., which has controlled Puerto Rico since the Spanish-American War.

Puerto Rican nationalists had also previously attempted to assassinate President Harry S. Truman in November 1950, only a few months after he signed a bill permitting the island to draft its own constitution. This move – besides giving Puerto Rico commonwealth status - angered hard-core nationalists. One of the shooters, Miranda, describe fellow Puerto Ricans as “happy slaves” because of it.

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In the wake of the Capitol shooting, the four nationalists were given long prison sentences. Cordero was freed in 1978 because he was fighting cancer. 

The following year, then-President Jimmy Carter allowed the other three to go free in an attempt to secure the release of American hostages in Cuba.

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