WASHINGTON, D.C. (9/19/13) – Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez, a 22-year-old man from Idaho Falls, Idaho, who traveled to the District of Columbia and fired at least eight rounds at the White House in November 2011, pleaded guilty today in federal court to terrorism and weapons offenses.
Ortega-Hernandez pled guilty in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to one count of injury to a dwelling and placing lives in jeopardy within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States, as well as one count of discharging a firearm during a crime of violence. Additionally, he admitted that the attack was a terrorist act, and therefore, a sentencing enhancement under the United States Sentencing Guidelines is applicable.
The guilty plea was announced by U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen, Jr.; Valerie Parlave, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office; and Kathy A. Michalko, Special Agent in Charge of the Washington Field Office of the U.S. Secret Service.
As a result of his plea, Ortega-Hernandez will face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison, and a total of 24 to 27 ½ years in prison under the United States Sentencing Guidelines. The plea agreement also provides that the United States will dismiss the 17 remaining counts charged in the indictment at the time of sentencing. The Honorable Rosemary M. Collyer scheduled sentencing for January 10, 2014.
“Firing an assault rifle at the White House to make a political statement is terrorism, plain and simple,” said U.S. Attorney Machen. “As we have seen this week, gunmen who come to the nation’s capital bent on violence can inflict terrible damage. This act of cowardice put lives at risk. Today’s plea demonstrates that those who come to the District of Columbia, planning to use violence to send a message, should expect to spend decades behind bars.”
“Through the extensive efforts of the FBI’s Violent Crimes Task Force and Evidence Response Team, the bullets that Mr. Ortega-Hernandez has admitted to shooting were recovered from the White House,” said Assistant Director in Charge Parlave. “This expert team’s examination of impact points allowed for the FBI to identify the trajectory of the shots, which furthered our investigation into Mr. Ortega-Hernandez and held him responsible for this crime of violence.”
“The collaborative effort between the FBI, U.S. Attorney’s Office, and U.S. Secret Service helped ensure the successful outcome of this case,” said Special Agent in Charge Michalko. “It is through effective partnerships such as these that we are able to accomplish our shared goal of ensuring the safety and security of the public.”
According to the government’s evidence, the events unfolded like this:
Beginning in 2010, Ortega-Hernandez made repeated statements to many friends and associates in Idaho about his contempt for the federal government, and he espoused numerous theories regarding how the federal government was seeking to control Americans through Global Positioning System chips, fluoride, and aspartame. He also criticized the federal government for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, claiming that the United States was “bullying” other countries to obtain oil. He made numerous statements vilifying the president of the United States, calling him “the devil” and “the anti-Christ,” among other things. On numerous occasions, he told friends and associates that “he was on a mission from God to take out Obama.”
On March 19, 2011, Ortega-Hernandez purchased a Romanian Cugir SA semi-automatic (AK-47-style) assault rifle from an individual in Idaho for $550. He also purchased more than 1,200 rounds of ammunition to use with the weapon. In August 2011, Ortega-Hernandez purchased a scope kit on the Internet and asked a friend to install it on the weapon for him. Over the course of six months, Ortega-Hernandez repeatedly practiced firing the weapon at a desolate crater located on land owned by the Bureau of Land Management outside of Idaho Falls, Idaho.
On October 23, 2011, Ortega-Hernandez made two short videos at the home of one of his friends. In the videos, he praised Osama bin Laden for having the courage to stand up to the United States and called for a revolution against the federal government. Ortega-Hernandez described himself as a “cold-hearted warrior of God” and declared, “It’s time for Armageddon.”
After making the two videos, Ortega-Hernandez departed Idaho Falls and drove more than 2,000 miles, armed with his Romanian Cugir SA semi-automatic assault rifle with the attached scope and more than 180 rounds of ammunition.
On November 11, 2011, at approximately 8:50 p.m., Ortega-Hernandez drove southbound on 15th Street NW and made a right turn onto Constitution Avenue NW. Shortly after passing the entrance to the Ellipse, he stopped his vehicle in the middle of the road. With the passenger-side window of his car lowered, he pointed his assault rifle out the passenger-side window of the car and aimed directly at the White House. He fired at least eight rounds at the White House.
Following the shooting, Ortega-Hernandez fled the scene, driving erratically and at a high rate of speed westbound on Constitution Avenue. Moments later, he lost control of the vehicle and crashed near the ramp from Constitution Avenue to the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge in front of the United States Institute of Peace. After efforts to restart the vehicle failed, Ortega-Hernandez fled from the vehicle on foot.
Following the crash, law enforcement launched a multi-jurisdictional search for Ortega-Hernandez. On November 14, 2011, he was photographed riding inside an empty hopper car on a cargo train in the area of Shenandoah Junction, West Virginia. The train was headed in a northwest direction away from Washington, D.C. The following day, he was identified standing outside a car wash in South Greensburg, Pennsylvania, and asking for a ride. A witness drove him to a store in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, where he purchased some items. He appeared on the store’s surveillance video. On November 16, 2011, Ortega-Hernandez returned to the hotel in Indiana, Pennsylvania, where he had previously stayed with friends. Upon his return, the hotel staff notified the Secret Service, and the Secret Service coordinated his arrest by the Pennsylvania State Police.
The FBI examined the area around the White House and located approximately eight bullet impact points on the south side of the building on or above the second story. Two bullets were recovered from the White House: one from a window frame on the Truman Balcony and one found on the ground east of the South entrance. The FBI determined that both of those bullets were fired from Ortega-Hernandez’s assault rifle. The FBI also recovered a bullet jacket that was found in the window sill of the Truman Balcony, which was also fired from Ortega-Hernandez’s assault rifle.
At the time of the shooting, two U.S. Secret Service officers were stationed on the northeast section of the roof of the White House. One of the bullets fired by Ortega-Hernandez struck the roof of the White House within approximately 20 feet of where the officers were stationed. The officers each reported hearing approximately six shots fired. In addition, another U.S. Secret Service Officer was stationed at the South Portico underneath the Truman balcony at the time of the shooting. Several of the bullets fired by Ortega-Hernandez struck the Truman balcony directly above where this officer was stationed. This officer heard approximately six to eight shots and the sound of what appeared to be debris falling from above. The officer took cover behind the stairwell, drew a firearm, and readied a shotgun.
In announcing the plea, U.S. Attorney Machen, Assistant Director in Charge Parlave, and Special Agent in Charge Michalko expressed their appreciation to all those who diligently investigated this case from the FBI’s Washington Field Office, the U.S. Secret Service, and the U.S. Park Police. They also acknowledged the assistance provided by the Pennsylvania State Police; the Arlington County, Virginia Police Department; the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania; the FBI Laboratory at Quantico, Virginia; FBI field offices in Pittsburgh and Salt Lake City, including the Idaho Falls Resident Agency; and Secret Service field offices in Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City, and Boise, Idaho. Additionally, they thanked those who worked on the case from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, including Paralegal Specialists Jenifer Rowe and Devron Elliott, Victim/Witness Coordinator Dawn Tolson-Hightower, and Litigation Technology Specialist Leif Hickling.
Finally, they commended the efforts of Special Assistant U.S. Attorney George P. Varghese and Assistant U.S. Attorney Alessio D. Evangelista of the National Security Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, who are prosecuting the case.
Information provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation
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