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Gunman Fires on White House : Shooting: President is not harmed in assault-rifle attack. Passersby on Pennsylvania Avenue tackle suspect, identified as a Colorado man. It is the second breach of security in as many months.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Colorado man standing among tourists in front of the White House pulled a Chinese-made assault rifle from beneath his trench coat Saturday and fired 20 to 30 shots at the mansion and the West Wing, where President Clinton has his office.

No one was injured, and White House Chief of Staff Leon E. Panetta told reporters: “The President and his family were never in any danger.”

The suspected gunman was subdued by passersby. Federal officials, who took the man into custody, said they could not immediately assign a motive to the attack.

They identified him as Francisco Martin Duran, 26, a hotel worker from the Colorado Springs, Colo., area, and said he was carrying an SKS semiautomatic rifle, a weapon similar to an AK-47, a firearm banned recently by congressional anti-crime legislation.

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Richard Griffin, chief of protective operations for the Secret Service, said he believes that Duran was acting alone, but he cautioned that the investigation is continuing.

“I would not characterize this as an assassination attempt at all, no way,” Griffin said.

However, a source familiar with the investigation said statements from Duran indicate that he may have a grudge against Clinton. Such statements could be used by authorities to support a charge of attempted assassination of the President.

Panetta, who was at work in the White House when the shooting erupted about 3 p.m. EDT, said the President was watching a college football game on television in his upstairs living quarters when he heard the crack of the gunfire.

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First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton was on a trip to California and the couple’s daughter, Chelsea, was away from the White House at the time.

Panetta said that after determining what had happened, he went upstairs to brief the President. Panetta said Clinton “wasn’t shaken at all” and that he expressed appreciation that nearby tourists subdued the suspect until uniformed Secret Service officers rushed onto the sidewalk to take him into custody.

Late Saturday, Clinton, speaking to the National Italian American Foundation, praised the “ordinary citizens” who apprehended the gunman and said the incident demonstrated why Congress was right in passing the crime bill, which included a ban on some assault weapons.

Law enforcement sources in El Paso County, which encompasses the Colorado Springs area, said Duran disappeared from home nearly a month ago, telling his wife he needed to buy materials for target practice. They said he was employed at the posh Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs and is the father of a 4-year-old son.

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Sgt. Dean Kelsey, a spokesman for the El Paso County sheriff’s office, told Reuters News Service that Duran’s wife filed a missing-person report on Oct. 1. Kelsey said marital problems were not listed in her report as a possible reason for his disappearance.

Duran’s wife told law officials that he left their home in a brown Chevrolet S-10 pickup.

Investigators swarmed over a vehicle matching that description near the White House after the shootings. The pickup, with Colorado plates, had bumper stickers with these slogans: “Fire Butch Reno,” an apparent reference to Atty. Gen. Janet Reno, and “Those Who Beat Their Guns Into Plows Will Plow for Those Who Don’t.”

The Duran family lives in a two-story house in the unincorporated community of Security-Widefield, about 10 miles southeast of Colorado Springs. On Saturday evening, the house, decorated for Halloween with a large orange pumpkin in an upper window and the silhouette of a werewolf on the front door, was surrounded by the vehicles of TV news crews and print journalists.

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Several neighbors described Duran as a “strange” and reclusive young man who angered many of them by not keeping up the yard of the house he moved into about a year ago.

Duran, who worked as an upholsterer at the nearby Broadmoor, was often seen covering furniture in his garage late at night. One neighbor, who asked that her name not be used, said he was a “sorry young man who watched TV all day long in his pajamas and left all the yard work for his wife to do.”

Another neighbor, Candi Howman, 28, said she regrets letting her 9-year-old son play with Duran’s boy. “He could have lost it in my own neighborhood,” she said, shaking her head. “From now on, I’m going to get to know my children’s friends’ parents a little better.”

Duran served in the Army from 1987 to 1991, and there were no records of mental, emotional or drug problems, authorities said.

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At the White House briefing, Panetta and Griffin gave no response to questions about Duran’s mental health.

A witness, Lee Brooks, 24, of Newark, Ohio, was standing on the Pennsylvania Avenue sidewalk with other tourists 10 or 12 feet from the gunman when the shooting began. Brooks said the gunman pulled the weapon from beneath his loose-fitting, gray trench coat and began firing through the bars of the 10-foot-high wrought-iron fence that separates the White House grounds from the sidewalk.

“He just aimed at the front steps of the White House and started shooting,” Brooks said. “It took about five shots before anyone realized what was happening.”

The shots traveled about 100 yards across the broad expanse of the White House front lawn.

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Brooks said that after emptying his first clip of ammunition, the gunman ran east along Pennsylvania Avenue while trying to reload. Two men in the crowd tackled Duran and authorities arrived to subdue him, he said.

Witnesses said one of the men, Robert Haines, was walking a baby in a stroller before the incident. “We held him down until the Secret Service took him into custody,” said Haines, who identified himself as an independent candidate for President.

Visitors on the sidewalk seemed stunned. Some had been roller-blading or walking their dogs in the warm autumn afternoon. Police sealed off access to the White House for the next several hours, swarming across the lawn to search for shell casings. Tourists with video cameras recorded the scene for their memories of the nation’s capital.

The man was detained for questioning at a security post on the White House grounds before being driven away for fingerprinting and further interrogation. At a Secret Service field office, he invoked his right to have an attorney.

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“All we can do is make him comfortable, get him water and food,” said Special Agent Tim Cahill.

White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers said the U.S. attorney’s office was considering what charges would be filed.

It was the first time in memory that shots had been fired at the White House. Panetta said three bullets “fired randomly” hit the Executive Mansion’s north portico and five others chipped the exterior plaster facing of the West Wing and broke a window in the White House press briefing room.

Griffin compared Saturday’s incident to the drive-by shootings and other episodes of gunfire that happen daily in large cities. “Based on that, we shouldn’t be shocked that a circumstance like this could present itself,” he said.

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For security reasons, the President’s ground-level Oval Office cannot be seen from any point outside the White House grounds, and the family living quarters do not face Pennsylvania Avenue.

Panetta said the Secret Service would immediately expand a review of presidential security it began last month after a despondent Maryland resident crashed a small single-engine aircraft on the South Lawn of the White House, killing himself in what has been described as an apparent suicide.

Panetta and Griffin downplayed any suggestions that White House security is at risk, but they hinted that some changes may occur early next year when the Secret Service review is completed.

“The President is in no danger whatever,” Griffin said. He added, however, that the Secret Service for years has recommended closing off the two-block stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House. That has been done from time to time during visits of heads of state, as when President Clinton hosted the signing of the Middle East peace agreement between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat last year.

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Panetta said incidents like the shooting “obviously raise concern, and we have to look at the situation.” But there is “a fine balance” between beefing up White House security and allowing the public a close look at a cherished landmark. Electronic monitoring devices line the 10-foot fence and visitors to the grounds must walk through metal detectors.

Panetta said Clinton planned no change in his weekend schedule. “We’ll all go to church tomorrow and be thankful that no one was injured,” he said.

Officials said that in May the President barred any further imports into the United States of the SKS rifle. The President took that action as he extended China’s trade privileges in the United States.

According to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, about 400,000 of these weapons were exported to this country from 1989 through 1993.

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Aside from regular public tours, the White House grounds are closed to the public and uniformed Secret Service agents are stationed at several guardhouses where the press and visitors are admitted.

There is normal pedestrian traffic in front of the White House and the street itself is a major cross-town thoroughfare. Concrete barriers line nearby streets to deter automobile attacks.

The first fence at the White House was erected on the building’s north side along Pennsylvania Avenue in 1818 and was extended along the east and west sides of the grounds in 1869.

Times staff writers Jim Mann and Ron Ostrow in Washington and Louis Sahagun in Colorado Springs contributed to this story.

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A Hail of Bullets

The gunman in Saturday’s attack fired 20 to 30 shots at the White House. Several areas suffered minor damage, according to officials.

Researched by HELENE WEBB / Los Angeles Times

Attacks on the White House

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Despite guards, fences, barricades and monitors, White House security has been breached in the past.

* Sept. 12: Despondent truck driver crashes a stolen plane on South Lawn. Clintons were not at home.

* 1976: A driver tries to ram a pickup through White House fence. Bars block his way.

* 1974: Army private steals helicopter at Ft. Meade, Md., and swoops down on lawn.

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* 1950: Puerto Rican terrorists attack Blair House, where President Harry S. Truman was staying during a White House remodeling. He was not injured.

* 1828: Drunken crowds break furniture while celebrating the inauguration of President Andrew Jackson.

Source: Associated Press, Reuters


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