WASHINGTON -- The Secret Service Saturday launched a review to learn how a man carrying a knife was able to get inside the front door of the White House after jumping a fence and sprinting more than 70 yards across the North Lawn -- the first time that has ever happened.
Within seconds, the Friday night intruder -- who prosecutors said served three tours in Iraq, and relatives said served as a sniper -- got to the front double doors of the North Portico, turned the brass knob and stepped inside the vestibule. He was subdued by an officer standing post inside the door. He had a folding knife with a 21/2-inch serrated blade.
The success Omar Gonzalez, 42, had in breaching White House security -- roughly 10 minutes after President Barack Obama and his daughters lifted off the south grounds by helicopter for Camp David -- exposed gaps in Secret Service protection of the first family.
The front door on the north portico was unlocked at the time. It is a frequently used door, just one flight of stairs away from the Obamas' living quarters, and until now, the Secret Service didn't imagine an intruder could reach it.
A trained attack dog -- the fail-safe measure for stopping intruders when officers cannot -- was not released in this case. The reasons are under investigation. The Secret Service trains its personnel not to shoot intruders unless they appear armed, or are wearing bulky clothes or backpacks that could conceal a bomb.
"This is totally and wholly unacceptable. . . . How safe is the president if this can happen?" said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on national security.
Another person was arrested for trespassing Saturday afternoon after entering a White House vehicle screening area by car and refusing to leave.
Thought to be unarmed
Gonzalez climbed over the north fence line along Pennsylvania Avenue, authorities said. His breach set off the security alarm across the compound. Officers rushed to the lawn but could not intercept him on foot as he ran, ignoring commands to stop.
Officers at the scene considered Gonzalez to be unarmed and likely mentally disturbed, a law enforcement official familiar with the incident said, and thus a low risk. It turned out Gonzalez had a knife in his pants pocket. One source said a sniper on scene had Gonzalez in his rifle sights just in case.
Edwin Donovan, the Secret Service spokesman, said, "What happened here is not acceptable to us, and it's going to be closely reviewed."
Fence-jumpers at the White House have become an all-too-frequent part of the job for the Secret Service. Nevertheless, almost all are stopped within seconds. It typically takes a person sprinting across the grounds at least 20 to 25 seconds to run from the fence line to the mansion.
After being subdued, Gonzalez was taken for evaluation to the psychiatric ward at George Washington University Hospital, according to an official.
Gonzalez told agents who apprehended him that he was very concerned the "atmosphere was collapsing" and he needed to get the president to get the word out to the people.
Gonzalez spent six years in Iraq with Army Special Forces as a sniper, according to his former stepson, Jerry Murphy.
"He's a very good guy. He is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder," Murphy said. "I don't believe he had any intention in hurting anybody."