WATCH ABOVE: White House officials are looking into how a man jumped the fence and made it inside.
WASHINGTON – A man jumped over the fence of the White House and made it through the front door before officers managed to apprehend him, just minutes after President Barack Obama had departed, the Secret Service said.
The rare breach on Friday was likely to renew intense scrutiny of the Secret Service, an agency whose storied history has been marred in recent years by multiple allegations of misconduct by officers. It was unclear whether a fence-jumper has ever made it into the White House before.
After scaling the fence on the north side of the White House, the intruder darted toward the presidential residence, ignoring commands from officers to stop, said Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan. He was ultimately apprehended just inside the North Portico doors — the grand, columned entrance that looks out over Pennsylvania Avenue.
Donovan said the man appeared to be unarmed to officers who spotted him jumping the fence, and a search of the suspect turned up no weapons. The suspect, identified as Omar J. Gonzalez, 42, of Copperas Cove, Texas, was placed under arrest and transported to nearby George Washington University Hospital for examination after complaining of chest pain.
Although it’s not uncommon for people to make it over the White House fence, they’re typically stopped almost immediately and rarely get very far before being apprehended. Video from the scene showed the suspect, in jeans and a dark shirt, sprinting across the lawn as Secret Service agents shouted at nearby pedestrians to clear the area.
“This situation was a little different than other incidents we have at the White House,” Donovan said. “There will be a thorough investigation into the incident.”
The incident prompted a rare evacuation of much of the White House. Inside the West Wing, White House staffers and Associated Press journalists were rushed into the basement and out a side exit to a nearby street by Secret Service agents — some with their weapons drawn.
The incident occurred shortly after 7 p.m., only minutes after Obama and his daughters, along with a guest of one of the girls, left the White House aboard Marine One on their way to Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland where Obama and his family were to spend the weekend. First lady Michelle Obama had travelled separately to Camp David and was not at home at the time of the incident.
Evacuations at the White House are extremely rare. Typically, when someone jumps the White House fence, the compound is put on lockdown and those inside remain in place while officers respond to the situation. Last week, the Secret Service apprehended a man who jumped over the same stretch of fence on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, prompting officers to draw their firearms and deploy service togs as they took the many into custody.
The Secret Service has struggled in recent years to strike the appropriate balance between ensuring the first family’s security and preserving the public’s access to the White House grounds. Once open to vehicles, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House was confined to pedestrians after the Oklahoma City bombing, but officials have been reluctant to restrict access to the area further.