Wednesday started like any other day for two staffers who work in Sen. Susan Collins’ Washington, D.C., office.

A few hours later, they and others were answering messages from friends and family asking if they were safe as a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol only a few hundred feet away from their location at the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

They watched on TV as the mob forced its way inside and sent members of Congress and staff scurrying for safety in an unprecedented assault on the seat of the nation’s democracy.

“In the moment, looking back on it, I didn’t have much of a reaction,” said Brenna Kent, a 24-year-old staff member of Collins. “I was definitely numb. I don’t think I fully grasped what was going on.”

Kent had walked the two miles from home to work, past supporters of President Trump who had started to gather for what was billed as a “Save America Rally” later that morning, and settled at her desk around 9 a.m.

“I did see (people) gathering and walking sort of aimlessly,” said Kent, who is from Scarborough. “But it wasn’t out of the ordinary.”

Kent’s colleague, Darci Greenacre, a Hampden native, was there, too. The 33-year-old, Collins’ director of scheduling, also said the morning started normally but that there were “undertones” that suggested things might not stay that way.

Darci Greenacre with Sen. Susan Collins Photo courtesy of Darci Greenacre

Shortly after noon, Collins made her way from her office in the Dirksen building to the Capitol, where she and other members of Congress would begin the usually ceremonial task of certifying the Electoral College votes for President-Elect Joe Biden.

Kent, Greenacre and others stayed behind.

Shortly after 1 p.m., they were watching on TV as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi convened the joint session of Congress and Vice President Mike Pence began the formal state-by-state certification process.

Kent, assistant to Collins’ chief of staff and her grants coordinator, said she saw staff members carrying huge chests of electoral ballots and thought how cool it was to see “little pieces of history unfold so close to me.”

Outside the Capitol, rioters had begun advancing on the building, climbing walls and pushing past police. Many had come from the morning rally, where Trump again railed against an election he called stolen. The president even said he would walk with his supporters to the Capitol, but it didn’t happen. Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, urged those gathered to engage in “trial by combat.”

Inside, once Pence got to Arizona’s electoral votes and some Republican members of Congress objected, the Senate went back to its own chamber and the House stayed behind. Shortly after that, Greenacre said, she could tell from TV footage that the situation was escalating.

“All of a sudden we could see members running from the chamber,” she said. It was strange to see images on TV of events that were happening a short distance away, she said. The Dirksen building, like other buildings that house congressional offices, are connected to the Capitol by a tunnel. Collins’ office overlooks the Capitol, but the rioters were advancing on the other side.

Brenna Kent, assistant to Sen. Susan Collins’ chief of staff and her grants coordinator, with the senator. U.S. Senate Photographic Studio,

Then, word reached the office that the Capitol had been breached.

Greenacre said it was frightening because no one knew what was happening or if their boss was safe. She doesn’t know exactly how much time passed before she learned Collins was OK, but said it felt like an eternity.

Kent said she saw Trump supporters on TV climbing the walls of the Capitol. Then she saw images of them inside the building, gathering in the massive rotunda. Then others on the floor of Senate, which had been evacuated.

Kent has worked for Collins for about 2 1/2 years. She’s never set foot on the Senate floor, which she called a “location of prestige and sanctity.”

“To see some of these people climbing around it like a jungle gym was really disheartening,” she said.

While some buildings nearby were evacuated, including the Cannon House Office Building, the Dirksen building was not. At one point, staff members were given the opportunity to leave and some did. But things continued to escalate at the Capitol and the Dirksen building went into lockdown. There were reports of shots fired. A woman was wounded and later died.

Both Kent and Greenacre said by that point, they were getting messages from friends and families wanting to know if they were OK.

For a few hours, they watched the events unfold on TV and social media like everyone else, not knowing how it would end or when.

Greenacre, who has worked for Collins for 10 years, said there has never been a day that rivaled Wednesday.

“It feels incredibly strange that it was only 24 hours ago,” she said.

The tension slowly started to ease around 6 p.m., when the curfew in Washington, D.C., went into effect and when public safety officials had regained control of the Capitol and escorted the mob out.

Kent said shortly after 6 p.m., authorities started letting staff members leave. She tried to call for an Uber but couldn’t find one, so she started to walk. Even though things had settled down, it was scary. She said every person she walked past was looking her up and down and she was doing the same to them.

“Trying to figure out who’s safe,” she said. “It was a really strange sensation.”

She made it home safe shortly before the Senate reconvened at 8 p.m. to resume the ballot recertification. She said she was proud of her boss and the others who finished the job they came there to do.

On Thursday, she and others worked from home.

Greenacre left the office around 8 p.m. on Wednesday. She said the walk to her car was quiet, almost eerily so. There was little evidence of what had occurred only a few hours earlier. She said she took a different route home and made it safely.

Asked how she’ll remember the day, Greenacre struggled for a minute to compose her words.

“Yesterday was an incredibly hard day for so many people and I just would hope that we can all come together after those events … and try to somehow heal some of the division in the country,” she said.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.