In the past year, authorities say, Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez became more and more agitated. Louder and louder, his mind warned him that the government was plotting against him. As he saw it, one man personified the threat:
About a month ago, Ortega-Hernandez, 21, abruptly left his home in Idaho Falls, Idaho, climbed into his 1998 Honda Accord and drove away without explanation, acquaintances there later said. One of them knew that Ortega-Hernandez owned a powerful rifle. This person “looked in Ortega-Hernandez’s room for the gun,” a federal agent wrote in a court affidavit. “And the gun was not there.”
Last Friday night, law enforcement officials allege, Ortega-Hernandez stopped his black four-door Honda near 17th Street and Constitution Avenue NW, about 750 yards from the south face of the White House.
He had traveled 2,200 miles.
In the car, they say, he had a loaded Romanian-made Cugir SA semiautomatic rifle equipped with telescopic sight, three spare magazines filled with 7.62x39mm ammunition, and several boxes of bullets, along with brass knuckles and an aluminum baseball bat.
What possessed him? The acquaintances later reported that Ortega-Hernandez had told them that he “needed to kill” the president, that Obama was “the devil” and “the anti-Christ” and that he “will not stop until it’s done.” Just past 9 p.m., authorities say, he aimed the rifle out of a window of his car, toward the White House.
And he allegedly squeezed the trigger again and again. Some of the rounds struck the exterior of the residential area of the mansion, according to the affidavit, which was made public Thursday. Investigators would later find nine spent shell casings in Ortega-Hernandez’s abandoned sedan.
An official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the attack is under investigation, said authorities have found no evidence of anyone else being involved in the shooting. Ortega-Hernandez has not been linked to any radical organizations or co-conspirators, the official said.
It’s unclear whether any of Ortega-Hernandez’s acquaintances warned authorities about him before last Friday — whether they told police about the alleged threats toward Obama, about Ortega-Hernandez’s sudden departure from Idaho or about the rifle.
Arrested Wednesday in western Pennsylvania after a five-day manhunt, Ortega-Hernandez was charged with attempting to assassinate Obama, punishable by up to life in prison. A federal magistrate in Pittsburgh ordered him jailed Thursday pending a yet-to-be-scheduled appearance in U.S. District Court in Washington, where he will be prosecuted.
The president and first lady Michelle Obama were in San Diego at the time of the shooting. As for the couple’s two daughters and their grandmother, a spokeswoman for the first lady would not say where they were that night. She referred questions to the Secret Service, which declined to comment on the family.
No one was injured in the shooting.
On Tuesday, four days after the gunfire, the Secret Service said it found a bullet hole in a window on the south side of the White House. The slug had pierced the “historic exterior glass” but was stopped by ballistic glass behind it, the Secret Service said.
The FBI searched the White House grounds and found “several confirmed bullet impact points on the south side of the building on or above the second floor,” FBI agent Chris Ormerod wrote in the affidavit. “The second and third stories of the White House are known to be the residence of the First Family. Several bullets and fragments were also collected in that area.”
Over the past year, “Ortega-Hernandez’s opinion and comments regarding the government and President Obama have gotten worse,” Ormerod wrote, based on an interview with an acquaintance of the suspect’s.
“Ortega-Hernandez was very specific that President Obama was the problem with the government, and Ortega-Hernandez was ‘preparing for something,’ ” the affidavit says, quoting the acquaintance. “Ortega-Hernandez stated that President Obama ‘needed to be taken care of,’ ” the acquaintance told investigators.
At least two people witnessed the gunfire, Ormerod wrote. One heard about eight “popping sounds” coming from a dark-colored sedan; the other described “puffs of air” from a window on the passenger’s side. The car then sped away.
Minutes later, Ortega-Hernandez’s Honda came to a sudden stop on the lawn of the U.S. Institute of Peace, in the 2300 block of Constitution Avenue, about six blocks west of the White House, the affidavit says. It says that a person who saw the Honda began to approach it, wondering whether the driver needed help.
“While walking toward the vehicle, [the witness] observed the operator attempt to restart the car, and then get out and flee the area on foot,” Ormerod wrote. Authorities said Ortega-Hernandez ran across the nearby Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Bridge, over the Potomac River and into Virginia.
FBI ballistics experts were trying to determine whether the slugs recovered on the White House grounds came from the rifle found in Ortega-Hernandez’s car.
In searching for him, the Secret Service said, agents distributed photos of Ortega-Hernandez in places where they learned he had been in recent weeks, including a Hampton Inn just outside Indiana, Pa., about 60 miles east of Pittsburgh.
Ortega-Hernandez returned to the hotel Wednesday, authorities said. Employees recognized him from the photo and called Pennsylvania State Police, who arrested him.
Police said he gave up peacefully.
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