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Details unfold in shots fired at White House
Question of the Day
WASHINGTON — A man clad in black who was obsessed with President Barack Obama pulled his car within view of the White House at night and fired shots from an assault rifle, cracking a window of the first family’s living quarters while the president was away, authorities said about their still-developing investigation.
The Secret Service found two bullets had hit the White House and agents caught up with Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez in Pennsylvania on Wednesday after a four-day search. Police arrested the 21-year-old Idaho man at a hotel after a desk clerk recognized his picture. Ortega was scheduled to make his first appearance at 2 p.m. Thursday in federal court in Pittsburgh. Many questions remained about his motive and background.
The White House declined to comment.
Authorities are investigating Ortega’s mental health and say there are indications he believed attacking the White House was part of a personal mission from God, according to a law enforcement official who spoke with the Associated Press. There are also indications the man had become obsessed with Obama and the White House, according to two officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
On Thursday, the mother of his former fiancé said Ortega had always been well-mannered and considerate in the four years she had known him. In recent months, though, Ortega began making statements that were out of character, said Kimberly Allen, who lives in Shelley, Idaho.
She said Ortega told family he believed he was Jesus Christ and that the world was going to end. Allen said the family was worried when he went to Utah recently, where he said he had business, and didn’t come back. She said they were “just flabbergasted” to hear he was wanted in Washington.
“I believe that the boy needs help,” Allen said.
Investigators believe Ortega fired at the White House from his vehicle Friday, according to an official with knowledge of the investigation. Gunshots were reported that night on Constitution Avenue about 9:30 p.m. Soon after, U.S. Park Police found an abandoned vehicle, the assault rifle inside it, near a bridge leading out of the nation’s capital to Virginia. The car led investigators to Ortega.
Agents discovered Tuesday that two bullets had hit the White House’s exterior, one of them cracking a window on the second floor residential level, just behind the rounded portico visible from the south side of the White House.
That bullet was stopped by protective ballistic glass. The window that was hit is in front of the Yellow Oval Room, which is in the middle of the family’s living quarters.
At the time of the shooting, Obama and his wife Michelle were on a trip to California and Hawaii. The president has since traveled to Australia and Indonesia on a nine-day tour. The Obamas’ daughters, Malia and Sasha, were not in California, but the White House has not said if they were home at the time shots were fired.
This is not the first time the White House has come under attack.
In the last 40 years, the landmark has faced threats ranging from a stolen helicopter that landed on the grounds in 1974 to a man who wielded a sawed-off shotgun on a sidewalk outside in 1984. In 1994 alone, there were five threats including a plane crash on the lawn and a suspected drive-by shooting. Another man fired at least 29 rounds from a semiautomatic weapon, with 11 striking the White House.
Dan Bongino is a former Secret Service agent who served on the presidential details for Obama and President George W. Bush. He said Friday’s shooting would likely mean tighter security and coordination.
By Michael P. Orsi
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