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Idaho man charged with trying to assassinate President Obama

November 17, 2011 |  1:04 pm

 

An Idaho man has been charged with trying to assassinate President Obama or his staff by allegedly using a high-powered rifle to fire two bullets at the White House, sending one bullet into a window -- where it was halted by security glass.

Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez, 21, of Idaho Falls was arrested Wednesday in Pennsylvania after a multi-agency manhunt and made his first court appearance just minutes ago in a Pittsburgh federal courtroom. He will remain in federal custody while he is transported back to Washington.

If convicted of "knowingly" trying to "kill the President of the United States," he faces up to life in prison.

Ortega sat quietly as the hearing began, his hands free but his feet shackled. Ortega said only, “Yes, ma’am” when he was asked if he understood that he would be going back to Washington to face the charges, according to the Associated Press.

Authorities have said that the suspect is obsessed with President Obama, believed he was "the devil" and needed "to be taken care of" when he allegedly took aim at the presidential mansion, cracking one of the windows outside the Obamas' living quarters, according to media reports.

But the man's mother has said there's no way her son is capable of such an act, and that if he did commit it, he had to have been under the influence of someone else.

The president was never in any danger in connection with the incident, officials have said. He and the first lady were in California on Friday when the shots were fired, although it's unclear whether daughters Sasha and Malia were home at the time.

Authorities believe that Ortega allegedly positioned his car near the White House about 9:30 p.m. Friday and opened fire.

Officials had responded to the sound of gunfire that night but were apparently unaware that the White House was the target, according to media reports; as part of that investigation, they found Ortega-Hernandez's car and an assault rifle inside.

It was not until Tuesday, however, that authorities found that a bullet had struck a window of the Yellow Oval Room, which is in the middle of the family's living quarters, and that another one had struck the exterior of the home.

That discovery sent the search for Ortega into overdrive, ending with his uneventful arrest on Wednesday.

The man's mother, Maria Hernandez, says it's too soon to jump to conclusions about her son. "They don't know if it was him driving the car and if it was him [who fired the gun]," she told the Idaho Falls Post Register. "He is just a person of interest. They don't know if it was him." (Viewing the article requires a paid subscription.)

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-- Rene Lynch
Twitter/renelynch

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Photo: Oscar Romero Ortega-Hernandez Credit: Reuters

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