An Iraq war veteran accused of scaling a fence and making it into the White House before the Secret Service stopped him posed no threat to anyone and needs counselling rather than prosecution, members of his family 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.
Jerry Murphy, whose mother was married to Gonzalez for several years, said Gonzalez suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and that he needs treatment. 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?" Murphy added. "He's got all kinds of weapons and he was trained to use them. 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."
Awarded a medal for his service in Iraq
Gonzalez is a veteran who was awarded a medal for his service in Iraq from October 2006 to January 2008 and retired due to disability, the army said Sunday.
The army said the 42-year-old of Copperas Cove, Texas, served from 1997 to 2003, when he was discharged, and then again from 2005 to December 2012, when he retired.
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 honourably discharged for medical reasons and suffered from plantar fasciitis, which led to surgeries on his feet. 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, 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-calibre pistol 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.
"Omar is a good guy; he's just got some issues that he needs help with," she said. "I think this is a cry out for help, what he's done."
Bell said she had never heard Gonzalez speak about the "falling atmosphere" that a criminal complaint says Gonzalez wanted to warn the president about.
Murphy's sister described Gonzalez as a kind, gentle man who was scarred by war.
"He was the kind of person everyone liked," said Rainie Murphy-Gandy, 24, of Midland, who lived with her mom and Gonzalez when he was based at Fort Hood. "He just started going downhill."
Secret Service tightens security
The Secret Service tightened security outside the White House after the embarrassing breach.
The first family was away from the White House at the time. Increased surveillance and more officer patrols are among the measures that Secret Service Director Julia Pierson ordered. She also began an investigation into 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."
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., 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.
Officials first said the fact that the man appeared to be unarmed may have been a factor in why agents at the scene didn't shoot or have their dogs pursue him before he made it inside.
But a criminal complaint issued late Friday revealed Gonzalez had a small folding knife with a 3½-inch serrated blade with him at the time of his arrest.
‘Provided service to his country’
At a hearing late Saturday afternoon in D.C. Superior Court, the assistant public defender representing Gonzalez said Gonzalez had no convictions or arrest warrants and had tested negative Saturday for drug use, according to The Washington Post.
"This is someone who has provided service to his country and shown commitment in his life," said the lawyer, Margarita O'Donnell, as she tried unsuccessfully to get Gonzalez released.
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."
Obama and his daughters had just left the White House by helicopter Friday evening when the intruder hopped the fence.
The intruder ran toward the presidential residence unimpeded, ignoring orders from officers to stop, until being tackled just inside the doors of the North Portico – the grand, columned entrance overlooking Pennsylvania Ave.
"Every day the Secret Service is challenged to ensure security at the White House complex while still allowing public accessibility to a national historical site," the agency said in a statement Saturday. "Although last night the officers showed tremendous restraint and discipline in dealing with this subject, the location of Gonzalez's arrest is not acceptable."
With questions mounting, Obama tried to allay concerns about whether the Secret Service is still up to the task of protecting him and his family.
"The president has full confidence in the Secret Service and is grateful to the men and women who day in and day out protect himself, his family and the White House," White House spokesman Frank Benenati said late Saturday.
The Secret Service said its Office of Professional Responsibility was carrying out the review.
The breach triggered a rare evacuation of much of the White House. Secret Service agents drew their weapons as they hurried White House staffers and journalists out of the West Wing through a side door.
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, N.J.
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.