The White House was evacuated and the Secret Service embarrassed after an intruder scaled a fence, scrambled across the lawn, and made it inside the front door before being apprehended by security personnel.
Shaky footage shot from the front lines purportedly shows the security breach, which occurred shortly after 7pm Friday evening and sent the official presidential residence into a scramble.
The incident has raised questions about how the man, clad in jeans and a t-shirt, was allowed to make it all the way inside the columned entrance of the North Portico, which overlooks Pennsylvania Avenue, before being tacked by security personnel.
The intruder, identified as Omar J. Gonzalez, 42, of Copperas Cove, Texas, is seen in the video bolting across the grounds. Secret Service officers yell at passers by outside the fence to clear out, while the person shooting the footage is heard asking “What’s going on?”
Officials had originally said that Gonzalez appeared unarmed as he sprinted across the lawn – potentially one reason agents didn’t shoot him or release their service dogs to detain him. But Gonzalez had a small folding knife with a 3 1/2-inch serrated blade at the time of the arrest.
When Gonzalez was apprehended he told Secret Service agents he was “concerned that the atmosphere was collapsing” and needed to contact the president “so he could get word out to the people.”
Gonzalez complained of chest pains after his arrest, and was transported to a nearby hospital for evaluation.
He is expected to appear in federal court Monday to face charges of unlawfully entering a restricted building or grounds while carrying a deadly or dangerous weapon.
Jerry Murphy, whose mother was married to Gonzalez for several years, said Gonzalez suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and that he needs treatment. He said Gonzalez has been driving around the country and living out of his truck for the past couple of years, and that he always carries his knife.
“I know he’s got heavy artillery, you know?” Murphy added. “He’s got all kinds of weapons and he was trained to use them. I believe if he wanted to make a scene or cause problems, he very well could have. But it’s clear that he didn’t.”
The Army said Gonzalez enlisted in July 1997 and remained until completing his service obligation in September 2003. He reenlisted in July 2005 and served until his retirement in late 2012, serving in Iraq from October 2006 to January 2008.
Samantha Bell, who is Gonzalez’s ex-wife and Murphy’s mother, said Gonzalez was honorably discharged for medical reasons and suffered from plantar fasciitis on his feet, on which he had had some surgeries. She said he also suffered from PTSD, for which he had been prescribed several medications.
Bell said she and Gonzalez married in 2006 and lived together in Copperas Cove, near Fort Hood, until she split up with him in 2010 because of his worsening mental condition. After his second tour in Iraq, Gonzalez began carrying a .45 on his hip at all times and kept three or four rifles and shotguns behind the doors in their home, said Bell, who remarried and now lives in southern Indiana.
She said Gonzalez kept the blinds drawn and would repeatedly go downstairs during the night to make sure the doors were locked and the oven was off. She said she once woke up in the middle of the night to find Gonzalez standing at the foot of the bed and staring at her. She said he told her he was simply watching her sleep.
“Omar is a good guy; he’s just got some issues that he needs help with,” she said. “I think this is a cry out for help, what he’s done.”
Bell said she had never heard Gonzalez speak about the “falling atmosphere” that a criminal complaint says Gonzalez wanted to warn the president about.
Murphy’s sister described Gonzalez as a kind, gentle man who was scarred by war.
“He was the kind of person everyone liked,” said Rainie Murphy-Gandy, 24, of Midland, who lived with her mom and Gonzalez when he was based at Fort Hood. “He just started going downhill.”