Questions Swirl Around How Vet Jumped White House Fence
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
The man who scaled a fence and ran through the front door of the White House Friday night had more than 800 rounds of ammunition in his car. That revelation came from a federal prosecutor today during a hearing for Omar Gonzales. He faces a charge of unlawfully entering a restricted building while carrying a deadly or dangerous weapon. Gonzales entered the White House carrying a knife. For more on the hearing and possible security changes at the White House, we're joined by NPR's Brian Naylor. And Brian, what more have we been finding out about the suspect Omar Gonzales today?
BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: Melissa, Gonzales is 42. He is an Army veteran who served in Iraq. We found out today that he had been stopped by the Secret Service back in August according to a prosecutor when he had been caring a hatchet in the back waistband of his pants. The Secret Service at the time asked to search his car and found nothing else suspicious and so they let him go. After the incident on Friday, they searched his car again and found the ammunition along with a machete and two hatchets. He had apparently been living in his car and then there's this - prosecutors say that he was arrested in Virginia in July after a chase, and in his car, they found rifles, handguns, a sawed off shotgun and a map of Washington with the White House circled. Gonzales is as I said an Iraq war veteran. He'd been based at Fort Hood and relatives have said he's suffering from PTSD. He's being held now, pending another hearing next month.
BLOCK: And Brian one of the mind-boggling things about this is how he was able not just to scale the fence but run toward the White House and get inside.....
NAYLOR: Yeah, yeah...
BLOCK: ...the White House.
NAYLOR: So that's of the Secret Service is trying to figure out now - just what happened and what broke down. As you say, he jumped over the fence around 7:20 p.m. Friday, ran across the North Lawn and got just inside the front door before he was stopped. This was moments after the president and his daughters had left the White House. But so there are a lot of questions how did he manage to get so far and, you know, why weren't - they have dogs trained to stop intruders, fence jumpers, but the dogs were never released. So the Secret Service is now going back and trying to figure out just what happened and what - what went wrong.
BLOCK: And also Brian I gather the Secret Service is considering more screening checkpoints farther away from the White House.
NAYLOR: Right. As you may remember after the Oklahoma City bombing, Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House was closed off to vehicle traffic. But still people can walk on it. It's a popular spot. Tourists take pictures of the White House and so - but officials are saying now maybe it's time to broaden the perimeter as it were - either maybe close it off altogether, or at least set up a place where they can check bags and backpacks before people can enter the area.
It's - you know, this is a difficult balance. The White House is a big tourist attraction. It's the people's house. But it's also a big office building and of course the residence of the president. There's a lot of issues that need to be addressed and also a lot of different agencies who are involved.
BLOCK: Yeah. So a Secret Service review is underway and in the meantime, what's being done?
NAYLOR: Well the Secret Service - the White House said today that while the Secret Service conduct its review, it's also stepped up foot patrols around the fence and there's additional surveillance and now the door to the North Portico where Mr. Gonzales entered last Friday is locked when it's not in use.
BLOCK: And we should mention Brian, there have been a series of embarrassing incidents for the Secret Service. Critics saying there is a real problem with this agency.
NAYLOR: That's right. In 2012 as you may remember there was the infamous incident where agents were involved in a prostitution scandal in Columbia. This past margin agent was found drunk in a Dutch hotel. The president named Julia Pearson to head the agency last year, the first woman director. In part to instill a new culture in the agency but clearly there are still personnel problems that are - that need to be dealt.
BLOCK: Okay, NPR's Brian Naylor. Brian thanks.
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