An intruder scaled a White House fence and made it all the way into the building Friday evening before he was caught and wrestled to the ground by security officers, the Secret Service said. President Obama and his family had already left for Camp David when the incident occurred.
Omar J. Gonzalez, 42, of Copperas Cove, Texas, near Ft. Hood, was arrested and charged with unlawful entry to the White House complex. He was taken to George Washington Medical Center after complaining of chest pain during his arrest, according to a late-night statement from the Secret Service.
Gonzalez climbed the fence on the north side of the White House, where protesters frequently gather, and then sprinted the roughly 100 yards to the front door while officers gave chase, according to an agency official. Officers saw that he was empty-handed and so did not release dogs or fire their guns, the official said.
The breach raises questions about security at one of the world’s most heavily protected homes. The last such occurrence came on the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, when an intruder jumped the fence and was apprehended on the North Lawn. In late summer, a child squeezed through the fence and toddled around on the lawn for a few minutes.
But the entry into the White House building appeared to have been a rare if not unprecedented event. Secret Service and administration officials said they couldn’t think of another such instance.
An official said the agency had considered closing down Pennsylvania Avenue in order to prevent such lapses, but that it had not done so in order to allow people to take pictures and hold demonstrations.
“We could stop it tomorrow,” the agency official said of the perennial problem of fence jumpers. “But that’s not reasonable. People should be able to take pictures.”
At least one intruder has been shot in the leg in recent years, according to the official, who asked not to be identified discussing the White House security track record.
“Every day, the Secret Service has to balance security with access,” the official said.
In Friday’s incident, which remains under investigation, officers said Gonzalez jumped the fence about 7:20 p.m. and took off running for the front doors of the North Portico, the entryway to the state floor of the White House.
He didn’t tell the arresting officers why he wanted to get into the building, the official said, speculating that the man may be “mentally disturbed.”
The agency said it would launch a review of security practices.
Parsons reported from Washington and Parker from Los Angeles.