Relatives: Vet arrested at White House needs help
MIDLAND, Texas (AP) — An Iraq war veteran accused of scaling a fence and making it into the White House before the Secret Service stopped him owns several guns that he could have brought with him if he had meant to harm anyone, his former stepson said Sunday.
Omar Gonzalez, 42, was arrested Friday and is expected in federal court Monday to face charges of unlawfully entering a restricted building or grounds while carrying a deadly or dangerous weapon — a small folding knife in this case.
Jerry Murphy, whose mother was married to Gonzalez for several years, said Gonzalez suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and that he needs treatment, not to be treated like a criminal. He said Gonzalez has been driving around the country and living out of his truck for the past couple of years, and that he always carries his knife.
“I know he’s got heavy artillery, you know? He’s got all kinds of weapons and he was trained to use them,” Murphy said. “I believe if he wanted to make a scene or cause problems, he very well could have. But it’s clear that he didn’t.”
The Secret Service has come under heavy criticism since the embarrassing security breach, which happened when the first family wasn’t at the White House. Secret Service Director Julia Pierson ordered increased surveillance and more officer patrols at the White House, as the agency investigates what went wrong.
A member of the House Homeland Security Committee said Sunday that it was astonishing, at a time of concerns about terrorist attacks, that “someone could actually get into the White House without being stopped.”
Republican Rep. Peter King said the intrusion was “absolutely inexcusable” and he expected congressional hearings into the incident at one of the world’s most heavily secured buildings.
“This demands a full investigation, an investigation as to what happened, why it happened and what’s being done to make sure it never happens again,” he told “Fox News Sunday.”
The Army said Gonzalez enlisted in July 1997, and at the time listed his home as Puerto Rico. He remained until completing his service obligation in September 2003. He reenlisted in July 2005 and served until his retirement in late 2012, serving in Iraq from October 2006 to January 2008.
The military does not provide details about a soldier’s disability due to privacy considerations. But Samantha Bell, who is Gonzalez’s ex-wife and Murphy’s mother, said Gonzalez was honorably discharged for medical reasons and suffered from plantar fasciitis on his feet, on which he had had some surgeries. She said he also suffered from PTSD, for which he had been prescribed several medications.
Bell said she and Gonzalez married in 2006 and lived together in Copperas Cove, near Fort Hood, in Texas until she split up with him in 2010 because of his worsening mental condition. After his second tour in Iraq, Gonzalez began carrying a .45 on his hip at all times and kept three or four rifles and shotguns behind the doors in their home, said Bell, who remarried and now lives in southern Indiana.
She said Gonzalez kept the blinds drawn and would repeatedly go downstairs during the night to make sure the doors were locked and the oven was off. She said she once woke up in the middle of the night to find Gonzalez standing at the foot of the bed and staring at her. She said he told her he was simply watching her sleep.
“It was really odd and I didn’t know how to take that,” she said. “I just couldn’t deal with it. I didn’t want to deal with it, I couldn’t — that’s the whole reason I left. He was so paranoid he was starting to make me paranoid.”
Murphy said his family doesn’t know how to get in touch with Gonzalez since his arrest and that the Secret Service hasn’t been any help in that regard. Bell said she wishes she could speak to her ex-husband’s attorney so she could fill him in on Gonzalez’s long history of mental issues.
“Omar is a good guy, he’s just got some issues that he needs help with. I think this is a cry out for help, what he’s done. He really does need help. I just hope he can get it.”
Bell said she last spoke to Gonzalez about a month ago when she called him to tell him she could send him papers showing that their divorce had been finalized.
“He said ‘Go ahead and hold onto them because I don’t have a permanent address right now.’ He said he was doing some traveling and I said, ‘OK,’” she said.
According to a criminal complaint, Gonzalez told Secret Service agents after his arrest that he was “concerned that the atmosphere was collapsing” and needed to contact the president “so he could get word out to the people.”
Bell said she had never heard Gonzalez speak about the “collapsing” atmosphere that he reportedly wanted to warn the president about, but that he had said in the past that he had been poisoned and that their phone calls were being monitored.
Less than 24 hours after Gonzalez’s arrest, a second man was apprehended after he drove up to a White House gate and refused to leave, Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said, prompting bomb technicians in full gear to search the vehicle as agents briefly shut down nearby streets.
On Sunday, Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary identified the man as Kevin Carr, 19, of Shamong, New Jersey.
There were no indications the two incidents were connected. But they only intensified the scrutiny of the Secret Service, which is struggling to rehabilitate its image following a series of allegations of misconduct by agents in recent years, including agents on Obama’s detail.
Lederman reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor in Washington, Rick Callahan in Indianapolis, and Maud Beelman and Terry Wallace in Dallas contributed to this report.