Puerto Rican independence firebrand Lolita Lebron died this morning in Puerto Rico at the age of 89.
El Nuevo Dia, at the time she thought they wouldn't make it out alive from Congress.
President Jimmy Carter pardoned Lebron and compatriots Irving Flores and Rafael Cancel Miranda. They were released in 1981, receiving a heroes' welcome upon their return to Puerto Rico. A fourth co-conspirator Andrés Figueroa died earlier.
Just before the shootout, Congress had been discussing Mexico's economy. Lebron then cried, "Viva Puerto Rico libre!", unfurled the Puerto Rican flag and all hell broke loose. True to her sense of martydom, upon her arrest the same day Lebron said, "I did not come to kill anyone, I came to die for Puerto Rico!".
At the trial, which was held several months later, Lebron would argue that she shot mostly at the ceiling. She was against her defense team's suggestion that the group might have suffered from "mental instability" while shooting up Congress.
Today, this act is considered one of the signal evens of the Puerto Rican independence movement. None other than Pedro Albizu Campos had been directing the group's attack from his own jail cell.
For me, the most fascinating thing about Lebron was the toll her personal political odyssey took on her family. It was mighty destructive.
A son died while she was on trial. A brother testified against her.
Vilar, who was age 8 at the time of her mother's death, alleges the incident was a result of the deep impact on her mother's life of her grandmother's political suicide mission.
The impact would be felt generations later in Vilar's life. Vilar would spend time in a pychiatric hospital and, most recently, wrote about having undergone something like 16 abortions during her youth.
I witnessed Lebron's political fervor firsthand as a reporter in 1998. She was one of the main attractions during a demonstration protesting the partial privatization of the Puerto Rico Telephone Company. It was one of those demonstrations about which people in Puerto Rico get super heated but in the end are powerless to change.
Lebron never lost her ability to fire up a crowd. She remained politically active, including taking part in the move to oust the U.S. Navy from Vieques.