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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

"He just aimed at the front steps of the White House and started shooting," Brooks said. "It took about five shots before anyone realized what was happening."

The shots traveled about 100 yards across the broad expanse of the White House front lawn.

Brooks said that after emptying his first clip of ammunition, the gunman ran east along Pennsylvania Avenue while trying to reload. Two men in the crowd tackled Duran and authorities arrived to subdue him, he said.

Witnesses said one of the men, Robert Haines, was walking a baby in a stroller before the incident. "We held him down until the Secret Service took him into custody," said Haines, who identified himself as an independent candidate for President.

Visitors on the sidewalk seemed stunned. Some had been roller-blading or walking their dogs in the warm autumn afternoon. Police sealed off access to the White House for the next several hours, swarming across the lawn to search for shell casings. Tourists with video cameras recorded the scene for their memories of the nation's capital.

The man was detained for questioning at a security post on the White House grounds before being driven away for fingerprinting and further interrogation. At a Secret Service field office, he invoked his right to have an attorney.

"All we can do is make him comfortable, get him water and food," said Special Agent Tim Cahill.

White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers said the U.S. attorney's office was considering what charges would be filed.

It was the first time in memory that shots had been fired at the White House. Panetta said three bullets "fired randomly" hit the Executive Mansion's north portico and five others chipped the exterior plaster facing of the West Wing and broke a window in the White House press briefing room.

Griffin compared Saturday's incident to the drive-by shootings and other episodes of gunfire that happen daily in large cities. "Based on that, we shouldn't be shocked that a circumstance like this could present itself," he said.

For security reasons, the President's ground-level Oval Office cannot be seen from any point outside the White House grounds, and the family living quarters do not face Pennsylvania Avenue.

Panetta said the Secret Service would immediately expand a review of presidential security it began last month after a despondent Maryland resident crashed a small single-engine aircraft on the South Lawn of the White House, killing himself in what has been described as an apparent suicide.

Panetta and Griffin downplayed any suggestions that White House security is at risk, but they hinted that some changes may occur early next year when the Secret Service review is completed.

"The President is in no danger whatever," Griffin said. He added, however, that the Secret Service for years has recommended closing off the two-block stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House. That has been done from time to time during visits of heads of state, as when President Clinton hosted the signing of the Middle East peace agreement between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat last year.

Panetta said incidents like the shooting "obviously raise concern, and we have to look at the situation." But there is "a fine balance" between beefing up White House security and allowing the public a close look at a cherished landmark. Electronic monitoring devices line the 10-foot fence and visitors to the grounds must walk through metal detectors.

Panetta said Clinton planned no change in his weekend schedule. "We'll all go to church tomorrow and be thankful that no one was injured," he said.

Officials said that in May the President barred any further imports into the United States of the SKS rifle. The President took that action as he extended China's trade privileges in the United States.

According to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, about 400,000 of these weapons were exported to this country from 1989 through 1993.

Aside from regular public tours, the White House grounds are closed to the public and uniformed Secret Service agents are stationed at several guardhouses where the press and visitors are admitted.

There is normal pedestrian traffic in front of the White House and the street itself is a major cross-town thoroughfare. Concrete barriers line nearby streets to deter automobile attacks.

The first fence at the White House was erected on the building's north side along Pennsylvania Avenue in 1818 and was extended along the east and west sides of the grounds in 1869.

Times staff writers Jim Mann and Ron Ostrow in Washington and Louis Sahagun in Colorado Springs contributed to this story.

A Hail of Bullets

The gunman in Saturday's attack fired 20 to 30 shots at the White House. Several areas suffered minor damage, according to officials.

Researched by HELENE WEBB / Los Angeles Times

Attacks on the White House

Despite guards, fences, barricades and monitors, White House security has been breached in the past.

* Sept. 12: Despondent truck driver crashes a stolen plane on South Lawn. Clintons were not at home.

* 1976: A driver tries to ram a pickup through White House fence. Bars block his way.

* 1974: Army private steals helicopter at Ft. Meade, Md., and swoops down on lawn.

* 1950: Puerto Rican terrorists attack Blair House, where President Harry S. Truman was staying during a White House remodeling. He was not injured.

* 1828: Drunken crowds break furniture while celebrating the inauguration of President Andrew Jackson.

Source: Associated Press, Reuters

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