WASHINGTON (AP) A middle-aged accountant with a history of mental illness fired several shots outside the White House yesterday and then was shot by the Secret Service as he waved his handgun menacingly, authorities said. The tense, noontime standoff sent tourists running for cover.
The midday drama unfolded just outside the fence at the edge of the South Lawn, 200 yards from the building where President Bush was inside exercising.
The man, wounded in the knee and hospitalized under guard, was identified by law enforcement sources as Robert W. Pickett, 47, from Evansville, Ind. He had been fired by the Internal Revenue Service in the mid 1980s, and neighbors said he kept to himself, resented the IRS and was obsessed with West Point, where he had dropped out after a semester in 1972. Pickett had acknowledged in court records suffering from mental illness and trying to commit suicide.
Bush, working out in the White House residence, was alerted by Secret Service agents “but understood that he was not in any danger,” spokesman Ari Fleischer said. First lady Laura Bush was in Texas. Vice President Dick Cheney was working in his White House office.
The shooting was the latest in a string of security scares that have brought tighter protection for U.S. presidents. In 1995, then-President Clinton ordered Pennsylvania Avenue closed in front of the White House following the Oklahoma City bombing. Earlier that year, a man was shot on the White House lawn after scaling a fence with an unloaded gun.
The latest incident, shortly before noon on a sunny, springlike day, triggered a tight security clampdown. Tourists were evacuated from White House rooms, and police in riot gear took up positions around the executive mansion and beyond its gates.
Dan Halpert, a tourist from Queens, N.Y., was on the National Mall nearby, when officers told him to get down and clear out. “We were all running away. It was scary,” said Halpert.
The confrontation occurred on E Street where tourists gather along the White House fence to snap photos of the executive mansion and hope for a glimpse of Bush jogging on the track encircling the South Lawn. There is an unobstructed view from the fence to the mansion.
Secret Service officers on routine patrol in a car “heard shots fired and proceeded to surround a subject who was wielding a weapon, a gun,” White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said. A 10-minute standoff ensued in which witnesses said they heard officers try to persuade the man to put the gun down.
“It doesn”t have to be this way, put the gun down,” one witness recalled police warning the suspect.
“He was waving it in the air it was pointed at the White House at one point and pointing it in all directions,” said Park Police spokesman Rob MacLean. At another point the man placed the gun in his mouth, MacLean said.
Pickett was shot in the right knee by a member of the Secret Service”s Emergency Response Team when he “raised the gun again and started aiming it at people,” a Secret Service source said, talking on condition of anonymity. The officer fired from inside the White House compound, through the wrought-iron fence.