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Prosecutor: White House Intruder Had Ammunition Cache

  • VOA News

A federal prosecutor in Washington said more than 800 rounds of ammunition, a machete and two hatchets were found in the car of the knife-carrying man accused of jumping the fence at the White House last week and dashing into the presidential mansion before being apprehended.

The prosecutor on Monday outlined the government's case against Omar Gonzalez, the U.S. military veteran accused in Friday's incident, as he made his first court appearance.

This also was not his first run-in with law enforcement.

Prosecutors said Gonzalez was stopped, but not arrested, in August, after he walked past the White House with a hatchet in his waistband. And he was arrested in July after state police found weapons in his car following a high-speed chase in nearby Virginia.

Security at the White House, the residence for U.S. presidents for more than two centuries, was more visible Monday in the aftermath of the unsettling incident.

Secret Service agents patrolled with dogs on the sidewalk outside the White House, while other agents could be seen on the rooftop.

Secret Service chief Julia Pierson ordered the extra patrols and increased surveillance along the black fence surrounding the White House. The presidential security agency is investigating how the intruder was able to scale the fence and run through the mansion's front door before being stopped.

Inside the presidential building Monday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters the Secret Service has launched a review of the September 19 incident and has taken a number of immediate steps to ramp up security.

Earnest said providing security is a challenging task for the Secret Service, which must balance the need to protect the president and his family while ensuring that the White House continues to remain the “people’s house.”

The press secretary said President Obama was concerned by the incident but has complete confidence in the Secret Service, remarks the commander-in-chief later reinforced to reporters following the signing of the America’s Promise Summit Declaration to benefit the country’s youth.

“The Secret Service does a great job. I am grateful for the sacrifices they make on my behalf and on my family’s behalf,” he said.

The White House is one of the most secure buildings in the U.S., but in the wake of the intrusion, the Secret Service is now considering whether to establish new checkpoints to screen tourists even before they approach the residence where U.S. presidents have lived for more than two centuries.

For now, in addition to increased Secret Service patrols, the White House says it is taking the simple step of making sure the front door -- used by thousands of tourists and staff each day -- is locked when not in use.

Suspect apprehended

Omar Gonzalez

Age: 42

From: Copperas Cove, Texas

Military career: Sergeant in the Army; enlisted July 1997, discharged September 2003, re-enlisted 2005, retired on disability 2012; served in Iraq October 2006 to January 2008

Military units: 10th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Hood, Texas; Joint Base Fort Lewis-McChord in Washington state and Fort Hood

Charges: Accused of breaking into the White House while armed with a knife. If convicted, faces up to 10 years in prison.

Source: U.S. Army, Reuters

Gonzalez faces charges of unlawfully entering a restricted building or grounds while carrying a “deadly or dangerous weapon.” If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison.

After being apprehended, Gonzalez, a retired Army sergeant who served in Iraq, told a Secret Service agent that “he was concerned that the atmosphere was collapsing and [he] needed to get the information to the president of the United States so that he could get the word out to the people,” according to an affidavit released by prosecutors.

Although the president and his family were not at the White House at the time the incident has shaken confidence in the ability of the U.S. Secret Service to protect the president.

The president and his daughters had departed from the South Lawn by helicopter just a few minutes before the incident.

The agency is also considering ways to expand the security zone around the White House to keep tourists and other members of the public farther away, media reports said. Additionally, visitors to the complex, now screened at the entrance gates, could instead be screened blocks away, the New York Times and the Washington Post reported.

Fence-jumpers at White House

While fence jumpers are somewhat common at the White House, Friday's incident was particularly concerning because the intruder was able to penetrate the actual building.

Critics have said they are appalled by the lapse, saying it could give confidence to other potentially more deadly attackers.

In a second incident on Saturday, the Secret Service said Kevin Carr of Shamong, New Jersen was arrested on Saturday for trespassing at the White House.

The man approached the gates on foot first, but returned with his vehicle to another gate after being sent away by security. When he refused to leave he was arrested for unlawful entry.

Just last month, a toddler was able to squeeze through the White House gates.

The Secret Service also has faced scrutiny after a prostitution scandal in 2012 and a 2009 breach involving an uninvited couple at a White House state dinner, although a 2013 Department of Homeland Security report found no evidence of misconduct or inappropriate behavior at the Secret Service.

VOA's Aru Pande contributed to this report. Some material for this report came from Reuters.

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