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Gunman Fires on White House : Shooting: President is not harmed in assault-rifle attack. Passersby on Pennsylvania Avenue tackle suspect, identified as a Colorado man. It is the second breach of security in as many months.

October 30, 1994|ROBERT L. JACKSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — A Colorado man standing among tourists in front of the White House pulled a Chinese-made assault rifle from beneath his trench coat Saturday and fired 20 to 30 shots at the mansion and the West Wing, where President Clinton has his office.

No one was injured, and White House Chief of Staff Leon E. Panetta told reporters: "The President and his family were never in any danger."

The suspected gunman was subdued by passersby. Federal officials, who took the man into custody, said they could not immediately assign a motive to the attack.

They identified him as Francisco Martin Duran, 26, a hotel worker from the Colorado Springs, Colo., area, and said he was carrying an SKS semiautomatic rifle, a weapon similar to an AK-47, a firearm banned recently by congressional anti-crime legislation.

Richard Griffin, chief of protective operations for the Secret Service, said he believes that Duran was acting alone, but he cautioned that the investigation is continuing.

"I would not characterize this as an assassination attempt at all, no way," Griffin said.

However, a source familiar with the investigation said statements from Duran indicate that he may have a grudge against Clinton. Such statements could be used by authorities to support a charge of attempted assassination of the President.

Panetta, who was at work in the White House when the shooting erupted about 3 p.m. EDT, said the President was watching a college football game on television in his upstairs living quarters when he heard the crack of the gunfire.

First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton was on a trip to California and the couple's daughter, Chelsea, was away from the White House at the time.

Panetta said that after determining what had happened, he went upstairs to brief the President. Panetta said Clinton "wasn't shaken at all" and that he expressed appreciation that nearby tourists subdued the suspect until uniformed Secret Service officers rushed onto the sidewalk to take him into custody.

Late Saturday, Clinton, speaking to the National Italian American Foundation, praised the "ordinary citizens" who apprehended the gunman and said the incident demonstrated why Congress was right in passing the crime bill, which included a ban on some assault weapons.

Law enforcement sources in El Paso County, which encompasses the Colorado Springs area, said Duran disappeared from home nearly a month ago, telling his wife he needed to buy materials for target practice. They said he was employed at the posh Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs and is the father of a 4-year-old son.

Sgt. Dean Kelsey, a spokesman for the El Paso County sheriff's office, told Reuters News Service that Duran's wife filed a missing-person report on Oct. 1. Kelsey said marital problems were not listed in her report as a possible reason for his disappearance.

Duran's wife told law officials that he left their home in a brown Chevrolet S-10 pickup.

Investigators swarmed over a vehicle matching that description near the White House after the shootings. The pickup, with Colorado plates, had bumper stickers with these slogans: "Fire Butch Reno," an apparent reference to Atty. Gen. Janet Reno, and "Those Who Beat Their Guns Into Plows Will Plow for Those Who Don't."

The Duran family lives in a two-story house in the unincorporated community of Security-Widefield, about 10 miles southeast of Colorado Springs. On Saturday evening, the house, decorated for Halloween with a large orange pumpkin in an upper window and the silhouette of a werewolf on the front door, was surrounded by the vehicles of TV news crews and print journalists.

Several neighbors described Duran as a "strange" and reclusive young man who angered many of them by not keeping up the yard of the house he moved into about a year ago.

Duran, who worked as an upholsterer at the nearby Broadmoor, was often seen covering furniture in his garage late at night. One neighbor, who asked that her name not be used, said he was a "sorry young man who watched TV all day long in his pajamas and left all the yard work for his wife to do."

Another neighbor, Candi Howman, 28, said she regrets letting her 9-year-old son play with Duran's boy. "He could have lost it in my own neighborhood," she said, shaking her head. "From now on, I'm going to get to know my children's friends' parents a little better."

Duran served in the Army from 1987 to 1991, and there were no records of mental, emotional or drug problems, authorities said.

At the White House briefing, Panetta and Griffin gave no response to questions about Duran's mental health.

A witness, Lee Brooks, 24, of Newark, Ohio, was standing on the Pennsylvania Avenue sidewalk with other tourists 10 or 12 feet from the gunman when the shooting began. Brooks said the gunman pulled the weapon from beneath his loose-fitting, gray trench coat and began firing through the bars of the 10-foot-high wrought-iron fence that separates the White House grounds from the sidewalk.

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