Secret Service stumped by shooting at White House


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The Independent US

Hours after revealing that they had found two bullets in the grounds of the White House, law enforcement agents in Washington last said that a man whom they believe may have fired them during an incident close to the mansion on Friday had been taken into custody in a small town in western Pennsylvania.

The arrest of Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez, a 21-year-old from Idaho, gave the Secret Service and other federal agencies charged with protecting President Barack Obama and his family a first break in an otherwise awkward case that risked making them look slightly less than competent.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Secret Service, which likes to project an image of deadly efficiency, with its dark-suited men sporting shades and wiggly earpieces, admitted that one of the two bullets found on Tuesday had penetrated the outer pane of one of the windows on the south side of the iconic residence. A second layer of ballistic glass had stopped it travelling further. The second bullet was found in the grounds. In a statement, the Secret Service said it still could not say for certain that the bullets had been there since the incident of Friday evening, although it seemed likely.

"The damage has not been conclusively connected to Friday's incident and an assessment of the exterior of the White House is ongoing," it said. The Friday mêlée which shut down streets all around the presidential home was embarrassing enough before the bullets showed up. Witnesses heard shots close by as well the squealing of tyres of perhaps two vehicles. Soon after, officers discovered a crashed car on nearby Constitution Avenue. It was registered to Mr Ortega. He was not inside, but what they did find was an automatic rifle and shell casings.

Sources close to the investigation said there was evidence that Mr Ortega may in some way have been fixated with President Obama and had been loitering near the White House for days prior to Friday evening's gunfire and may have hidden himself among Occupy DC protesters. Earlier on Friday he was held briefly and photographed by police in nearby Arlington County, Virginia, after displaying so-called "suspicious behaviour".

Mr Obama and the First Lady knew nothing of Friday's incident since they were out of town on a visit to California.

Since then they have played hosts at an Asia-Pacific summit in Honolulu and yesterday were on a 27-hour visit to Australia.

The shootings seemingly happened about 800 yards to the south of the residence. No one was hurt. Secret Service officials have protested that the incident took place on the very edge of the zone of protection they throw around the White House. Yet, questions are sure to be asked if it is confirmed that the bullets on the grounds were fired by Mr Ortega from that distance. Others will want to know how it was that it was another four days before anyone noticed them.