- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 8, 2001

A man armed with a handgun fired several shots and threatened to commit suicide outside the White House yesterday before a Secret Service officer shot him in the leg, ending a tense 10-minute standoff.

President Bush, who had attended an early morning event on the South Lawn just 600 yards from where the gunman fired "a number of shots" was exercising inside the residence at the time of the incident and was never in danger, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

The suspect was identified as Robert W. Pickett, 47, an accountant who had been fired by the Internal Revenue Service and lived by himself in Evansville, Ind. Just a week ago, Mr. Pickett wrote a suicidal letter to the IRS commissioner, Mr. Bush, the attorney general and an Ohio newspaper

The Cincinnati Enquirer reported in today's editions that the letter said to the IRS commissioner, "My death is on your hands… . Your predecessors made decisions which killed an innocent man," apparently referring to himself.

Law enforcement officials said they were investigating whether Mr. Pickett wanted police to kill him.

Pandemonium broke out shortly after 11 a.m. on E Street just outside the White House South Lawn fence, where tourists often gather to take photos after a D.C. policeman heard shots and spotted a man with a gun.

"Officers told us to run away, to get down," said eyewitness Dan Halpert, a tourist from Queens, N.Y., who was walking from the White House to visit the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

D.C. police Officer Derrick Johnson, who is part of the vice president's motorcade, was waiting near the southwest gate for the motorcade when he heard shots fired and saw Mr. Pickett with a gun, a police source familiar with the investigation told The Washington Times. He radioed the information to police dispatchers and approached the gunman.

D.C. police Officer Mario Gurin, a negotiator for the department's Emergency Response Team, was driving nearby and heard the dispatch and responded to the scene where he and Officer Johnson tried to persuade the gunman to give up his weapon, the police source said.

While they were talking with the gunman, officers from the uniformed division of the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Park Police surrounded him.

Tourists scurried for safety as officers took up positions behind cars and trees.

"He was waving it in the air it was pointed at the White House at one point and pointing it in all directions," said Park Police spokesman Sgt. Rob MacLean. At one point, the suspect put the gun in his mouth, Sgt. MacLean said.

Members of the Emergency Response Team, armed with assault weapons and wearing bulletproof vests, also rushed to the scene, just across the street from the Ellipse, Mr. Fleischer said.

"A 10-minute standoff ensued, upon which time the Secret Service [officer] fired a shot into the suspect's leg," Mr. Fleischer said. Sgt. MacLean said the gunman was shot when he raised his weapon.

The gunman then slumped down, with his back against a jersey wall, and was quickly subdued by officers. He was taken to George Washington University Hospital, where he underwent surgery on his right knee and was to undergo psychological evaluation.

Secret Service agents late yesterday searched Mr. Pickett's home for firearms. Officers from the Evansville police bomb squad joined agents in scouting outside for booby traps or bombs.

The FBI's Washington field office yesterday opened an investigation of a possible assault on a federal officer by Mr. Pickett, according to a bureau official. Mr. Pickett also faces D.C. weapons charges, which the Secret Service is expected to file as early as today, law enforcement officials said.

"At this point, an evaluation will be done before he is charged," Sgt. MacLean said. "That will be determined by the U.S. attorney."

There were conflicting reports yesterday about whether the gunman ever fired a shot. The Secret Service, contrary to eyewitness accounts, said only one bullet was fired the one by the officer that struck the gunman in the knee.

But Mr. Fleischer, who said he got his information from the Secret Service, said "the suspect fired a number of shots." He would not say how many shots or whether they were aimed at the White House.

Mr. Bush had attended a South Lawn event earlier in the morning to tout his tax-cut proposal. The president gathered with several families about 600 yards from the spot where law enforcement officials say the gunman stood.

Officials said the gunman had a clear line of vision up the South Lawn to the White House, but Mr. Fleischer said "the southern tip is very far removed from the White House. It's quite a distance."

"The president understood that he was not in any danger," he said, nor was Vice President Richard B. Cheney, who was working in his West Wing office at the time. First lady Laura Bush was at the family ranch in Crawford, Texas, when the incident occurred.

During the standoff and for hours afterward, E Street was closed between 15th and 17th streets. Officers using metal detectors scoured areas inside and outside the South Lawn fence, eventually recovering a five-shot .38-caliber handgun and a number of casings.

Shortly after the gunman was shot at 11:36 a.m., visitors taking the White House tour were escorted out a "routine precaution," Mr. Fleischer said as officials heightened security in and around the White House.

Eyewitnesses to the shooting described a surreal scene a man shooting just outside the White House, the most heavily guarded building in the country.

"He was just standing in the street and randomly fired a few shots," witness Martin Manley told CNN. He said the man jumped into nearby shrubbery and refused to surrender even after officers surrounded him.

"Police were talking to him, telling him, 'It doesn't have to be this way. Put the gun down.' Then I heard one shot and the police all rushed in."

Heather Lambert, 30, a tourist from Toronto, told the Associated Press: "We're from Canada. We don't get this kind of stuff. I didn't think my little trip to the White House grounds would be this interesting."

Mr. Pickett was fired from the IRS in 1987 and fought a long court battle with the agency and several other federal officials, sometimes acting as his own attorney.

"They said he wasn't doing his job properly and having trouble with attendance," Evansville attorney Joseph Yocum told AP.

Mr. Pickett lost an appeal of the firing, Mr. Yocum said.

Officials at the Evansville Police Department said Mr. Pickett had no prior criminal record, and local police officials did not recall having any dealings with him.

Federal authorities in Washington said Mr. Pickett was not among those listed in Secret Service files as known threats to the president.

Neighbors described Mr. Pickett as a friendly man, an accountant who had lived in a modest home in Evansville and kept a neat lawn. He frequently jogged.

Police said Mr. Pickett lived alone at the house since his father's death in 1995.

A brother, Stephen Pickett of Sleepy Hollow, Ill., expressed regret about the incident.

"We are glad no innocent people were hurt," he said in a statement issued to reporters yesterday. "We've been estranged from Robert for several years now. We hope that he gets the help that he needs."

The shooting renewed debate over Pennsylvania Avenue, which President Clinton closed after a federal building in Oklahoma City was bombed in April 1995, killing 164 persons. Mr. Fleischer said Mr. Bush was still reviewing whether the street fronting the White House should be reopened.

Despite heavy security at the White House, several violent and even bizarre incidents have occurred there. In May 1995, the Secret Service shot a man who scaled a White House fence, carrying an unloaded gun.

Nine months earlier, a pilot died when he crashed a small plane on the South Lawn of the White House. About a month later, a man pulled a rifle from under his trench coat and sprayed the front of the White House with bullets.

• John Drake, Jerry Seper and Daniel F. Drummond contributed to this report.

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