An armed intruder jumped a fence onto the South Lawn of the White House late Tuesday and was shot and wounded by a uniformed Secret Service agent. The bullet apparently passed through the man’s arm, wounded a second agent, and both men were reported in stable condition early this morning.
President Clinton was meeting with his chief of staff, Leon E. Panetta, in the White House residence at the time of the shooting, about 10:45 p.m., and was never in any danger, officials said.
It was the third significant breach of security on the White House grounds since September, and it came just three days after the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House was closed to all but pedestrian traffic to deter a potential car bomb.
The Secret Service identified the gunman as Leland William Modjeski, 38, of Falls Church, Va.
Merle Goldberg, a spokesman for George Washington University Hospital, said the guard was Scott Giambattista, 35. Goldberg said both men underwent surgery early this morning.
Giambattista was shot in the left elbow and Modjeski in the right arm. Both were in stable condition, she said.
A spokesman for the Secret Service, David Adams, said investigators know of no motive for the incident. “The investigation has just begun,” he said. “The president was in the White House at the time, but he was never in any danger.”
Other officials and emergency medical workers who treated the wounded men said the suspect had jumped a fence near the southeast gate, not far from the Treasury Department parking lot, which adjoins the White House grounds on the back side of the mansion facing the Ellipse - a heavily guarded area but not among the areas of the White House perimeter that were closed to traffic over the weekend.
They said the man ran toward the mansion, passing one guard before being shot by another.
Rhonda Coles, a paramedic with the Washington fire and emergency medical service, said that when she arrived on the scene, Secret Service agents had already put the man on a stretcher, stripped to his underwear. She said he had been shot in the left biceps and had lost a lot of blood.
She described the man as about 5 foot 9 inches tall and of medium build. “He didn’t say why he did it,” she said.
“This is just like a shock,” Coles said. “I had the bad guy, the suspect. This was an unexpected affair after the security they put up around the White House. You wouldn’t expect this would happen two days later.”
She said the suspect was conscious. He “didn’t act like he was crazy or anything. He was just complaining about the handcuffs.”
At the White House early this morning, uniformed police stood in the darkened streets in small clusters. Passers-by were kept across the street from the White House’s rear fence.
On the grounds of the Executive Mansion, floodlights illuminated parts of the South Lawn, but the building itself was in darkness.
The shooting came just three days after Clinton announced the closing of the two block stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House to all but pedestrian traffic to deter a potential car- or truck-bomb attack.
The Secret Service and a panel of outside experts recommended the closing after an eight-month security review prompted by the crash landing of a light plane on the South Lawn last September.
A month later, a gunman fired repeated rounds from a semiautomatic rifle at the north front of the mansion, and was convicted last month of attempted murder of the president.
The southeast gate is used by White House workers, and is across the lawn from the curving stretch of road known as South Executive Avenue, which was also closed to traffic as a security measure Saturday.
Security experts acknowledged that the street closings would not have prevented either of the incidents last year, or indeed most of the security breaches at the White House in recent decades, which have typically involved people on foot either jumping the fences, carrying guns around the perimeter or somehow wandering into the house or grounds without proper clearance.
But Clinton, Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, who oversees the Secret Service, and others argued that the devastating truck bomb that destroyed the federal building in Oklahoma City on April 19 provided powerful evidence of the need for stepped-up security to combat potential risks.
The Secret Service and its panel of outside experts, including William H. Webster, the former director of the FBI and the CIA, had recommended the closings even before the bombing.
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