Authorities in Missouri were investigating the discovery Tuesday of small stickers resembling gun targets that were found near the office doors of several state lawmakers.
Senators widely condemned the orange, round stickers displaying crosshairs as an affront to their safety, and police appeared to step up their presence in the Capitol hallways. The stickers were placed next to the doors of at least five Democratic state senators. The House clerk said a sticker also was found next to the doorway of at least one House Republican office.
The point of the stickers was not immediately clear. However, their discovery came as the Senate was debating legislation on whether Missouri should implement a portion of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. Several Democrats were leading the opposition to the Republican-backed bill, which would require approval from the state Legislature or voters before Missouri can take steps to create a state-run health-insurance exchange.
Senators interrupted their health-insurance debate to publicly denounce the gun-target stickers. The bill later received initial approval on a voice vote.
"Whoever did that _ if it was a group or an individual _ I pray for those people, and I do believe there is a special place in hell for them," said Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, a Democrat from St. Louis County who was among those targeted by the stickers.
Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, a Republican from Dexter, said both the Missouri Capitol Police and State Highway Patrol were investigating the stickers. He vowed that senators would seek punishment for whoever was responsible for "this horrible conduct."
The Capitol Police and Highway Patrol are part of the Missouri Department of Public Safety. Department spokesman Mike O'Connell declined to comment about the investigation into the stickers, saying only: "We always take security at state buildings very seriously."
Chief House Clerk Adam Crumbliss expressed hope that the stickers weren't an intentional threat. "We're all hoping for the best case scenario that it was just a prank," Crumbliss said.
But Sen. Jolie Justus said someone appeared to deliberately pick her doorway. She said after a small target sticker was removed, someone later placed a larger crosshairs sticker near her doorway.
"If anyone thinks this was a prank, it's not a prank," said Justus, a Democrat from Kansas City. "You don't joke about someone's personal safety."
Associated Press writers Wes Duplantier and Chris Blank contributed to this report.