WASHINGTON — Federal authorities charged a 21-year-old Idaho man on Thursday with trying to assassinate President Obama. They said he had told friends that he believed the president was “the Antichrist” and that he “needed to kill him,” according to a complaint filed in federal court.
The man, Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez, of Idaho Falls, who is accused of firing a semiautomatic assault rifle at the residential floors of the White House last week, was also “convinced the federal government is conspiring against him” and had become “increasingly more agitated” before he disappeared from Idaho last month, the complaint said.
The court papers were filed in conjunction with a brief appearance by Mr. Ortega-Hernandez in a federal courthouse in Pittsburgh on Thursday afternoon. Mr. Ortega-Hernandez was arrested Wednesday at a hotel near the town of Indiana, Pa., and officials intend to bring him back to the District of Columbia to face the assassination charge, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Mr. Ortega-Hernandez — who is heavily tattooed, including the word “Israel” on his neck — spoke briefly during the appearance, replying “yes, ma’am” when asked by a magistrate judge if he understood that most of the legal proceedings would take place in Washington, according to The Associated Press.
Law enforcement authorities had been hunting for Mr. Ortega-Hernandez since Friday night, after discovering evidence linked to him in a car abandoned about seven blocks from the White House.
The black Honda Accord with an Idaho license plate — which had been seen speeding away after gunshots were heard near the presidential mansion just after 9 p.m. that night — had a Romanian-made semiautomatic rifle inside. Mr. Obama was out of town at the time.
The complaint filed in federal court said that Mr. Ortega-Hernandez’s friends said he owned such a weapon. It also cited several witnesses who saw the sedan stop in front of the Ellipse — a grassy field between the White House and the Washington Monument — and saw or heard someone fire gunshots through the passenger window at the White House before the car sped away.
Mr. Ortega-Hernandez’s family had reported him missing in Idaho Falls last month. He has a history of aberrant behavior and has had legal problems in Idaho, Texas and Utah, including drug charges, drinking, resisting arrest and assault on a police officer, officials have said.
The Secret Service did not have Mr. Ortega-Hernandez on record as someone who had made any threats to the president, an agency official said.
In addition to the rifle, investigators found “nine spent shell casings” in the car along with ammunition, brass knuckles, a baseball bat, a sales receipt from a Wal-Mart about four hours before the shooting, and a black hooded jacket with “L.A.” written in the style of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team logo.
It also cited evidence linking Mr. Ortega-Hernandez to that evidence. He had been photographed wearing such a jacket at least twice earlier that day — on a surveillance tape at the Wal-Mart, and when police in nearby Arlington County, Va., stopped him a few hours earlier after someone reported that a man was circling a neighborhood in a suspicious manner.
It was not clear for several days that someone had deliberately fired at the White House. But the Secret Service has now found at least two bullets. The agency would not say where the White House had been struck, but workers on Wednesday were examining a window overlooking the Truman Balcony, an area outside the second-floor residential quarters where the first family sometimes relaxes or hosts guests. A second round was found outside.
The shooting came from roughly 750 yards south of the White House, just outside the outer security perimeter. The security perimeter extends to the south edge of the Ellipse, where the National Christmas Tree is displayed. It is across Constitution Avenue from the more distant Washington Monument.
The street area, usually open to the public, is one of the most guarded parts of the city — or the country, for that matter — with the United States Park Police patrolling on the National Mall and the District of Columbia police on the streets.
In addition, the Secret Service, with a uniformed force of 1,400 officers, has agents on guard at fixed positions on the White House grounds and on patrol nearby in cars and on bicycles. Streets are routinely shut down for motorcades.
The Secret Service said it had been tipped off to Mr. Ortega-Hernandez’s whereabouts by a hotel employee who recognized a photograph of him and called the Pittsburgh field office. The field office alerted the Pennsylvania State Police, which dispatched troopers to the hotel.
Investigators established Mr. Ortega-Hernandez’s route by talking to people who knew him, an official at the Secret Service said, and circulated photos of him to several hotels in the area. The investigation involved all of the Secret Service’s 122 field offices in the United States, the official said.
The last known episode in which bullets struck the White House occurred in 1994, when one round fired from the area of the Ellipse penetrated a first-floor window and landed in the State Dining Room, and another was found in a Christmas tree near the South Portico. President Bill Clinton and his wife and daughter were sleeping upstairs. No one was hurt.
New York Times