VIDEO-Accused White House Fence Jumper Had Earlier Arrest Record - WSJ

WASHINGTON—The Army veteran accused of clambering over a White House fence and breaching the executive mansion served two rough tours in Iraq and returned home with symptoms of severe mental illness, according to family and friends.

In federal court on Monday, the prosecutor revealed a pair of earlier incidents involving Omar J. Gonzalez that the government said demonstrated the 42-year-old former Cavalry scout constituted a danger to the president.

In July, Mr. Gonzalez was arrested in Virginia on felony charges of evading arrest and possession of a sawed-off shotgun, police and the prosecutor said. Police also found sniper rifles, handguns and a cache of other weapons in his vehicle, as well as a map of Washington with a line drawn to the White House, Virginia State Police said. He was released on bond.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Secret Service were notified about Mr. Gonzalez's arrest, said Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller.

Mr. Gonzalez, a native of Puerto Rico, was stopped by the Secret Service near the White House's south fence on Aug. 25 with a hatchet in his waistband, the prosecutor said. He allowed a search of his vehicle and was released.

After he allegedly burst through White House security Friday at about 7:20 p.m. with a folding knife in his pocket, police also found a machete, two hatchets and more than 800 rounds of ammunition in his vehicle parked nearby, the prosecutor said.

The Secret Service said Monday it was widening its internal review of the incident beyond looking at operational policies and security procedures. The agency will review "Gonzalez' criminal history and contacts with Secret Service personnel," said spokesman Brian Leary.

On Monday, a federal judge ordered Mr. Gonzalez held pending an Oct. 1 hearing. If convicted of unlawfully entering a restricted building with a deadly weapon, he could be sentenced to as much as 10 years in prison.

Mr. Gonzalez's friends and family described him as a dedicated soldier who returned home so paranoid about an unnamed "they" that he kept rifles and shotguns behind the doors and patrolled the perimeter of his home near Fort Hood, Texas.

"He's a standup guy—he's a hero," said Jerry Murphy, the son of Mr. Gonzalez's former wife. "He sacrificed his mind and his body for his country."

Mr. Murphy and his mother, Samantha Bell, said a military psychiatrist treated Mr. Gonzalez for post-traumatic stress disorder and paranoid schizophrenia before his medical retirement from the military in 2012. Citing privacy laws, a military spokesman declined to provide details about any medical treatment.

The Department of Veterans Affairs provides Mr. Gonzalez with $1,652 in monthly disability payments. "However, at this time, it does not appear the veteran sought treatment in any VA health-care facility," a VA spokeswoman said.

Mr. Gonzalez served his first Iraq tour from October 2006 to January 2008, when he was based in Baghdad and manned a machine gun atop Humvees and Bradley fighting vehicles. On his second tour, he was stationed in Mosul. Known to his comrades as "Gonzo," he encountered firefights, roadside bombs and close-quarters combat, according other soldiers in B Troop, 4th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment.

At times, insurgents would throw handmade teapot grenades at the scouts' passing vehicles, the soldiers recalled. "We saw a lot of dead bodies, a lot of shooting, a lot of people killed," said Sgt. 1st Class Michael Lashua, who shared a vehicle with Mr. Gonzalez in Iraq.

When Mr. Gonzalez returned to Fort Hood, Ms. Bell said he wouldn't discuss his experiences, except to say they were "very bad" and imply they involved children in some way.

Mr. Gonzalez took to walking around the house with a pistol on his hip, peeking out through the blinds. He worried "they" were pumping poison in through the vents, said Ms. Bell, who left him in 2010. He patrolled the yard looking for footprints, compulsively checked the locks and kept weapons behind the living-room and bedroom doors. "He wasn't violent—he was a great guy," she said. "It was just those bizarre behaviors. I couldn't deal with it anymore."

One time he closed the blinds while Ms. Bell was running on a treadmill in the same room. "'I'm closing the blinds because they're looking in,'" she remembered him saying. "He always said 'they' but would never tell me who."

A fellow soldier who knew Mr. Gonzalez well recalled that he was unable to sleep well and was troubled by nightmares. "He wouldn't hurt anybody ever," the soldier said.

Mr. Gonzalez was medically retired from the military because of a disability related to severe plantar fasciitis, his former wife said.

Among the awards he received were three Army Commendation medals, one Army Achievement Medal and an Army Good Conduct Medal, according to his records.

"Omar has an illness," said Ms. Bell. "I would love for that to be treated. I don't want him to be punished."

Secret Service agents reported that after his apprehension inside the White House, Mr. Gonzalez said he was "concerned that the atmosphere was collapsing" and that he needed to get unspecified information to the president.

At Monday's hearing, Magistrate Judge John Facciola asked Mr. Gonzalez's public defender, David Bos, if his client appeared to suffer from any mental disease or deficiency. Mr. Bos said there was no basis for a court-ordered competency evaluation. "Sadly, many of my clients suffer from mental illnesses—including PTSD—but are still competent to stand trial," he said in an email after the hearing.

—Colleen McCain Nelson, Lisa Schwartz and Rachel Graf contributed to this article.

Write to Michael M. Phillips at michael.phillips@wsj.com and Jeffrey Sparshott at jeffrey.sparshott@wsj.com

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