(Courtesy of The New York Times)
WASHINGTON — Federal law enforcement officials on Wednesday arrested a 21-year-old Idaho man suspected of firing a semiautomatic rifle at the White House on Friday night, and the Secret Service reported finding that at least one bullet had struck the presidential residence.
The suspect, Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez, was arrested at a hotel near Indiana, Pa., about 12:35 p.m. by the Pennsylvania State Police, acting on information from Secret Service agents in Pittsburgh, the Secret Service said.
“Ortega-Hernandez is currently in the custody of the Pennsylvania State Police,” the statement said.
The man, previously referred to in a warrant as Oscar Ramiro Ortega, has a background of legal problems and is said to have a history of aberrant behavior. During an encounter earlier on Friday with the police in Arlington County, Va., he said he was from Idaho Falls. The police there said his family had reported him missing last month.
Gunfire was heard in the vicinity of the White House and the National Mall shortly after 9 on Friday night, and the Secret Service said its officers had seen a car speed away west on Constitution Avenue. A few minutes later, the car was found about seven blocks away, abandoned, with an assault-style semiautomatic rifle inside.
Investigators were examining evidence found in the car and talking with Mr. Ortega-Hernandez’s relatives, who told them that he appeared to have a fixation on the White House or President Obama, one official said. Another official said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had traced the origin of the weapon, but the official declined to disclose the circumstances of its purchase.
The United States Park Police had obtained an arrest warrant charging Mr. Ortega-Hernandez with a felony count of carrying a deadly weapon. The agency had also released photographs showing that Mr. Ortega-Hernandez had distinctive tattoos, including the word “Israel” on the left side of his neck. He was also said to have three dots tattooed on his right hand, the name “Ortega” on his back, rosary beads and hands clasped in prayer on his right chest and folded hands on his left chest.
The police in Arlington County took those photographs on Friday when they stopped Mr. Ortega-Hernandez after someone reported that a man outside was circling the area in a suspicious manner. Mr. Ortega-Hernandez was on foot and unarmed, said Lieutenant Joe Kantor, a county police spokesman, and since “there was no crime,” there was no reason to arrest him.
Late on Friday, the police searched the Occupy DC protest camp, on McPherson Square just blocks from the White House, after reports that the suspect might have spent time there. Protesters there said on Wednesday that the police had been through their encampment several times since then, showing around a photograph of Mr. Ortega-Hernandez.
Sgt. David Schlosser of the Park Police said any motive would not be clear “until we can talk to this guy.”
He said Mr. Ortega-Hernandez had criminal records in Idaho, Texas and Utah for charges including drugs, underage drinking, domestic violence, resisting arrest and assault on a police officer. Public records indicated much the same thing.
The Secret Service did not have Mr. Ortega-Hernandez on record as someone who had made any threats to the president, an agency official said.
Mr. Obama and his wife, Michelle, were away on Friday; the president was in San Diego on his way to an Asia-Pacific economic forum in Hawaii, and on Wednesday was in Australia.
It was not clear for several days that someone had deliberately fired at the White House. But the Secret Service has now found at least two bullets. The agency would not say where the White House had been struck, but workers on Wednesday were examining a window overlooking the Truman Balcony, an area outside the second-floor residential quarters where the first family sometimes relaxes or hosts guests.
A second round was found outside, and officials were searching the South Lawn for any other rounds. The area around the White House was generally more crowded than usual with police cars on Wednesday.
The shooting came from roughly 750 yards south of the White House, just outside the outer security perimeter. The security perimeter extends to the south edge of the Ellipse, a grassy area where the National Christmas Tree is displayed. It is across Constitution Avenue from the more distant Washington Monument.
The street area, usually open to the public, is one of the most guarded parts of the city — or of the country, for that matter — with the United States Park Police patrolling on the National Mall and the District of Columbia police on the streets. In addition, the Secret Service, with a uniformed force of 1,400 officers, has agents on guard at fixed positions on the White House grounds and on patrol nearby in cars and on bicycles. Streets are routinely shut down for motorcades. The Secret Service said its security worked effectively on Friday evening, though it planned to “scrutinize how we can make it better,” an official said.
The Secret Service said it had been tipped off to Mr. Ortega-Hernandez’s whereabouts by a hotel employee who recognized a photograph of him and called the Pittsburgh field office. The field office alerted the Pennsylvania State Police, which dispatched troopers to the hotel.
Investigators established Mr. Ortega-Hernandez’s route by talking to people who knew him, an official at the Secret Service said, and circulated photos of him to several hotels in the area. The investigation involved all of the Secret Service’s 122 field offices in the United States, the official said.
The last known episode in which bullets struck the White House occurred in 1994, when one round fired from the area of the Ellipse penetrated a first-floor window and landed in the State Dining Room, and another was found in a Christmas tree near the South Portico. President Bill Clinton and his wife and daughter were sleeping upstairs. No one was hurt.