Press Briefing by Chief of Staff Leon Panetta and Agent Richard Griffin
The Briefing Room
6:20 P.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: Good evening. As you all know by now, some shots were fired on the White House earlier today. Here to provide as much information as we can about the incident at this point are Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, and Richard Griffin, who is the Assistant Director of the U.S. Secret Service for Protective Operations.
I would just like to remind you that this is a preliminary investigation. It's ongoing. I think Richard Griffin and Leon Panetta will both be available to answer questions once they've each given an opening statement. But the information that we provide will be limited just by the fact that the investigation is ongoing.
So, Mr. Panetta.
MR. PANETTA: Ladies and gentlemen, at approximately 3:00 p.m. this afternoon shots were fired at the White House from the sidewalk on Pennsylvania Avenue. No one was injured. The gunman was apprehended by the Secret Service and is now in custody.
The President and his family were never in any danger, and the President was upstairs in the residence watching a football game at the time. Chelsea was away from the White House, and Mrs. Clinton is presently in California.
I was in my office when the incident occurred, and I heard the shots being fired. I walked to the north part of the White House, the Northwest Gate, to determine what had happened; spoke to an officer outside the Oval Office who confirmed that shots had been fired at the White House; checked to see that the President was okay and determined that he was fine; then came to the press room where I saw the fact that shots had come through the window here in the press room; and then went out to the front of the White House and determined that shots had also struck the mansion, as well as this side of the White House.
At approximately 3:15 p.m. I went into the residence to inform the President. He had also heard the shots fired. The Secret Service had come in almost immediately after cracks, the first cracks had sounded. I told the President what we knew about the incident and that the suspect gunman had been taken into custody and was being questioned.
He was obviously relieved that no one was injured. He also expressed his appreciation for the citizens and the Uniform Secret Service who helped catch the gunman.
Mrs. Clinton has been briefed on the situation, as has the Vice President. I've spoken to him since and will continue to keep him informed as details become available.
There have been no changes in the President's schedule. He will attend the Italian American dinner this evening, and will take off tomorrow. We'll all go to church tomorrow and be thankful that no one was injured.
Q: Where in the mansion?
MR. PANETTA: Family quarters. Upstairs.
Q: Where in the mansion did the shots hit?
Q: In the front windows of --
MR. GRIFFIN: If I may, this will be a brief statement and then those questions that we can answer I will answer, or the Chief of Staff will answer.
Good evening. My name is Richard Griffin. I'm the Assistant Director of the U.S. Secret Service in charge of Protective Operations. I want to make a brief statement, after which I will take your questions. However, I want to mention at the outset that there is a criminal investigation proceeding, and so I'm somewhat limited to the amount of information that I can provide at this time.
At 3:00 p.m. today a white male, age 26, opened fire at the White House from outside the north fence. The subject was carrying identification in the name of Francisco Martin Duran. Mr. Duran is from Colorado Springs, Colorado, according to the identification he was carrying.
Mr. Duran was carrying an SKS Chinese semiautomatic rifle, and fired between 20 and 30 rounds in the general vicinity of the White House. No one was injured. Damage to the White House is slight and is still being assessed.
Citizens subdued the suspect initially, and he was immediately detained thereafter by members of the Uniform Division of the United States Secret Service. He is now in the custody of the Secret Service and our investigation is continuing. There is no known motive at this time. A preliminary check does not show that this individual had any prior history with the Secret Service. Further criminal background checks are being conducted.
The weapon is being traced by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. And this investigation will be pursued jointly by the Secret Service; the FBI; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; Park Police and the Metropolitan Police Department.
Q: Mr. Panetta, would you recommend any changes in the way this complex and the President is guarded? For instance, will the President no longer hold events on the front lawn? Will he change his routine?
MR. PANETTA: No, not at all. I think the procedures that we had in place were fully implemented in the effort to protect the President. I will say that as a result of the incident that earlier took place at the White House with the helicopter, that encompassed in that report will also be this incident. That report is due to come out in early January. And what I've done is ask the Secret Service to incorporate this situation as part of that report.
Q: Did the man say anything at all? And where were the shots fired at the mansion? I mean, was it below a window or at a window or -- because we've only seen the ones that hit here.
MR. GRIFFIN: At this time, as far as any statements from the individual, we're not in a position to discuss that.
Q: Where did it --
Q: Sir, what was the range of the rifle?
MR. PANETTA: Let me say, it appeared that they were fired randomly at the mansion. I believe that there were about three shots that hit the mansion; about five that hit this end --
Q: The second floor? I mean, where --
Q: Yes --
Q: How close did they get to the President's quarters?
MR. PANETTA: I can't tell you exactly where the shots hit the mansion. They hit -- I know I saw a shot hit in the front wall in front of the door of the White House, and there was one shot --
Q: The main door on the North Portico?
MR. PANETTA: That's correct. And there was one shot that was, I believe, about at the second level of the White House, to the left of the mansion as you look at it. And then there were additional -- obviously, I observed the additional shots here in the press room.
MR. GRIFFIN: Could I add one thing, please. With reference to your question about danger to the President -- the President was in no danger whatsoever.
Q: Mr. Griffin, did the suspect have any other weapons on his person? And how many rounds of ammunition, how many additional clips did he have? And is the SKS similar to an AK-47?
MR. GRIFFIN: The round is similar to an AK-47 round. Your questions about additional rounds that he may have had is something that will be determined at the end of the interview and the investigation. We don't have that now.
Q: additional weapons, please, sir? Any additional weapons?
MR. GRIFFIN: Not to my knowledge.
Q: What was the range of the rifle that he had, sir? What was the range? How far could he shoot?
MR. GRIFFIN: I'm not sure the answer to that question.
Q: how many persons were involved, and at this point in the investigation, are you assuming it was the act of a lone, perhaps deranged person?
MR. GRIFFIN: Well, we're going to resolve that. At this point, there's no reason to think anything contrary to that. But that will be flushed out in the course of the investigation.
QQ: Leon, what did the President say --
Q: I think you ought to clarify that answer -- no reason to think he was not a deranged --
MR. GRIFFIN: No reason to think that he was not acting alone.
Q: This incident should show that someone can get a clear shot at the White House from the sidewalk. Should consideration be given to maybe not making that public anymore, to closing off that thoroughfare to the public?
MR. GRIFFIN: I think the Secret Service is on record over the years in indicating that we think it would be an enhancement to security at the White House if Pennsylvania Avenue was closed. And that's still our position.
Q: Are you now making --
Q: Mr. Panetta, could you deal with that question as to whether or not you would recommend that course of action to the President?
MR. PANETTA: Well, what I would like to do is to have the Secret Service, as I said, make this incident part of their full report with regards to security here. Obviously, it raises concerns, and I think we have to look at the situation as part of the investigation that dealt with the helicopter.
You walk a fine balance here; you try to, obviously, provide the greatest security possible for the President of the United States. But at the same time, you also want to provide access for people of this country to the White House. So it's that kind of balance that's involved here; let's not forget that.
Q: You said that the President expressed -- was pleased that nobody had been hurt. Could you tell us exactly what his reaction was? Do you remember what he said to you?
MR. PANETTA: We walked in and he had been resting and watching football, and got up when we entered. And I said, let me brief you on the incident. I said, did you hear what had happened? He said he had. And I briefed him as to what I knew at the time, was that essentially an individual had fired randomly at the White House with what appeared to be an assault weapon, and that no one had been injured; that they were able to wrestle the individual to the ground and took him into custody. And he expressed relief at that and thanks to those that had done the job.
Q: Can you elaborate a little bit on what your concerns are about having Pennsylvania Avenue open and how it would enhance security? And can you tell us, also, how long did it take to get off those 20 or 30 rounds? And do you have any concerns that the officers weren't able to respond quickly enough to that; or is there no way to do that? I'm also a little bit unclear just on factual things -- as long as I can get this all off -- where the individual was standing -- obviously on the sidewalk at Pennsylvania Avenue -- but where in front of the White House? And does he have any kind of criminal record that you've been able to determine?
MR. GRIFFIN: Does that cover all the questions? (Laughter.)
Q: She has a follow. (Laughter.)
MR. GRIFFIN: Let me give you a broad answer to a grouping of those questions. It would not be in the best interests of security for me to tick off those particular types of scenarios that we would feel threatened by that could come from the north on Pennsylvania Avenue, or the sidewalk on Pennsylvania Avenue.
As to your question regarding response time, it's been our experience that when you have a serious attempt, a serious assassination attempt that more often than not there is going to be a diversion. So when you have somebody doing something from the north side of the White House, you can't automatically assume that that is the sum and total of the threat that you might be facing. And for that reason you're not going to have all of your assets respond to what would appear to be the only threat, when there may be people coming from two or three different directions.
Other than that, I wouldn't want to get any more specific about the north side.
Q: In this White House the President is not guarded on the second floor, at his request. He's changed the practice of previous presidents -- that's correct?
MR. GRIFFIN: I wouldn't respond to that.
Q: Are you changing any of the operations here inside the White House?
MR. GRIFFIN: We have response plans which we have had for a long time at the White House here. And those response plans, which obviously need to be known only to the Service, were in place and our personnel that were assigned here did those things that they're supposed to do under this scenario that we had this afternoon.
I'm very comfortable with that, and I'm very comfortable with all of those plans and the regularity with which those things are reviewed and exercised.
Q: A car was found at 17th and E with Colorado plates and several bumper stickers talking about guns, knives and guns. Can you tell us -- and several police were around the car about an hour ago. Can you tell us, was that the suspect's car? Has that been taken into custody?
MR. GRIFFIN: I haven't seen that vehicle. There is a vehicle involved. I'm sure there will be further reporting about the vehicle and the contents at a later date. But I'm not prepared to do that at this time.
Q: Is the incident with actual shots being fired, is it unprecedented? Has anything like this ever taken place before? And would you characterize this as an assassination attempt?
MR. GRIFFIN: No, I would not characterize this as an assassination attempt. No way.
Q: The unprecedented part --
MR. GRIFFIN: Unprecedented? I would say that on a daily basis, unfortunately, in most metropolitan cities in the country there are drive-by shootings and shootings on the streets and what have you --
Q: At the White House.
MR. GRIFFIN: Well, we all know that it doesn't happen with regularity here. But we all know about the number of weapons that are on the streets of the United States, and the access to those weapons. And based on that, we shouldn't be shocked that a circumstance like this could present itself.
Thank you very much.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 6:35 P.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Chief of Staff Leon Panetta and Agent Richard Griffin Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269545