White House intruder was an Army vet with PTSD, family says
The intruder who scaled a White House fence and made it through the front doors was an Army veteran diagnosed with combat trauma, but authorities said Saturday the case was still under investigation.
A family member in California said Omar J. Gonzalez, 42, of Copperas Cove, Texas, near Ft. Hood, has been homeless and living alone in the wild and in campgrounds with his two pet dogs for the last two years.
“We talked to him on 9/11 and he said he planned to go to a Veterans Administration hospital to seek treatments,” said the family member, who asked that he not be identified pending completion of the Secret Service investigation.
“He’s been depressed for quite some time,” the relative said. “He’d been taking antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication. I suspect he stopped taking it, otherwise this wouldn’t have happened.”
Secret Service officials said that Gonzalez climbed a fence on the north side of the White House at about 7:20 p.m. Friday and sprinted roughly 100 yards and into the building before he was captured by officers.
“Gonzalez failed to comply with responding Secret Service Uniformed Division Officers’ verbal commands, and was physically apprehended after entering the White House North Portico doors,” agency officials said in a statement Saturday.
President Obama was not on the grounds at the time of the breach.
Officials initially said Gonzalez was unarmed, but a criminal complaint filed Saturday said he had a 31/2-inch folding knife in his right front pants pocket. Gonzalez has been charged with unlawful entry to the White House complex.
A spokesman for the Army confirmed that Gonzalez served on active duty in the Army and was retired in 2012.
Gonzalez joined the Army in the mid-1990s, the family member said. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after his first tour in Iraq. “But they sent him back for a second tour,” he said.
During a second tour, about three years ago, Gonzalez was reportedly injured by a homemade explosive device. “His job was running patrols in Baghdad when his Humvee was hit,” the family member said.
“A portion of his foot was amputated,” he said, “and the evidence is the limp you see in the video of him running across the White House lawn.”
Gonzalez was honorably discharged about two years ago, the family member said. Initially, he was renting a house in Copperas Cove. After that, he traveled around the country in a truck, overnighting in campgrounds.
The incident on Friday, he said, “was a complete surprise. Omar usually stays in Texas. We have no idea how he got to Washington, D.C.”
The Secret Service contacted the family member at about 10 p.m. on Friday. “Two hours later,” he said, “an agent was knocking on my door.”
“They told us what happened,” he said. “Omar’s in a hospital and under arrest. But I was told their intent is to help him.”
“The family’s hope is that this sad event brings awareness to the issue of post-traumatic stress disorder,” he said, “and the need for proper treatment.”
“Omar is not some maniac,” he added. “He’s a veteran who needs help.”
Also on Saturday, an intruder for the second time in 24 hours attempted to breach White House security, adding to concerns about the competency of the Secret Service amidst a persistent string of scandals and lapses.
The latest incident drew the ire of at least one legislator on Saturday morning.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on national security, wrote on Twitter, “Reports of White House fence jumper getting as far as he did are TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE.”
“This is not the first time Secret Service has shown too much vulnerability,” he continued. “There are other unreported incidents. I will continue to push.”
Secret Service officials vowed the incident would be thoroughly investigated.
The two perimeter breaches were the latest in a string of embarrassments for the Secret Service. An intruder also climbed a fence and was apprehended on the North Lawn on the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11th attacks, and a small child squeezed through a fence this summer.
Agents have also become embroiled in scandal in recent years.
In March, an agent was found drunk at a Netherlands hotel the day before President Obama’s arrival in that country. Last year, two officers were removed from the president’s security detail following allegations of sexual misconduct. And the year before that, 13 agents and officers were implicated in a prostitution scandal in Colombia.
Times staff writers Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Houston and James Queally in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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