The White House Gunfire Mystery

Late Friday night, the local news in Washington D.C., as well as Twitter, lit up briefly when it was reported that gun shots had been fired out of a moving vehicle proceeding down Constitution Avenue near the White House:

A gun — possibly an AK-47 — was recovered Friday night after reports of gunfire and a chase near the White House.

At least one person is still at large after the reports of gunfire at about 9:30 p.m. within earshot of Secret Service. No injuries have been reported.

Constitution Avenue was shut down at 15th, 17th and 23rd streets.

Two cars were seen leaving from the area. Police lost sight of one vehicle but they caught up with a possibly stolen Honda sedan near the Roosevelt Bridge. The gun was found inside.

The driver took off on foot. Park Police could not confirm any passengers.

Police suspect another vehicle was involved.

While there were initial concerns that someone may have been trying to hit the White House, the story seemed to fade away over the weekend as the media came to believe that this had been a dispute between the two car drivers gone bad. Although if you’re going to start shooting at someone in a moving car, Constitution Avenue in the middle of D.C. isn’t the smartest place to try to do it.

That was then. Now, though, the story is becoming a bit of a mystery with reports that the Secret Service has discovered a bullet hole in a White House window, along with shell casings:

WASHINGTON — The Secret Service says a bullet hit an exterior window of the White House and was stopped by ballistic glass.

An additional round of ammunition was found on the White House exterior. The bullets were found Tuesday morning. A spokesman for the Secret Service, Edwin Donovan, declined to answer additional questions about the incident including the caliber bullets recovered or what room of the White House was behind the window that was hit, citing an ongoing criminal investigation.

The discovery follows reports of gunfire near the White House on Friday. Witnesses heard shots and saw two speeding vehicles in the area. An assault rifle was also recovered.

President Barack Obama, who was headed to a summit in Hawaii, was not at the home at the time of the shooting.

The Secret Service said it has not conclusively connected Friday’s incident with the bullets found at the White House. Previously, authorities had said the White House did not appear to have been targeted Friday night.

U.S. Park Police have an arrest warrant for Oscar Ortega-Hernandez, who is believed to be connected to the earlier incident. He is described as a 21-year-old Hispanic man, 5 feet 11 inches tall, 160 pounds, with a medium build, brown eyes and black hair.

He is believed to be living in the Washington area with ties to Idaho.

There are also fears that Ortega-Hernandez could be a threat to the President:

ABC News has learned authorities are increasingly concerned that a man sought in connection with a bizarre shooting incident on the Washington Mall last week may pose a threat to President Obama.

The Secret Service now suspects that a bullet fired in this incident may have hit the White House after a bullet round was found in a White House window, though the round had not yet been conclusively linked to the incident.  The round was stopped by ballistic glass behind the historic exterior glass, while an additional round has been found on the exterior of the White House.

Police believe the suspect, 21-year-old Oscar Ramiro Ortega of Idaho, is mentally ill. Ortega has an extensive record, ranging from domestic violence to drug charges. Sources say a police investigation has uncovered evidence suggesting Ortega has a fixation on the White House.


It’s unclear whether Ortega is capable of launching a sophisticated attack, but police are still fearful of what he might do next.

Authorities suspect Ortega has been in the area for weeks, coming back and forth to the Washington Mall.  Before the shooting, he was detained by local police at an abandoned house. U.S. Park police say Ortega may have spent time blending in with Occupy D.C. protesters.

President Obama, who is currently on a visit to Australia, was not present at the White House at the time of the incident, and in fact has been out of town for the past week. Secret Service officials are not taking any chances with the security of the President and the White House, though, and want Ortega off the street.

As indeed they should. As we learned in January, someone who’s mentally ill and obsessed with a politician can do quite a bit of damage indeed even if they don’t succeed in getting their intended target.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Boyd says:

    I wish reporters would take the 30 seconds necessary to understand the terms they use, such as “bullet” and “round” or “cartridge.” And BTW, there’s no such thing as a “bullet round.”

    I can only guess that every time they use one of those words in the story, they actually mean “bullet.”

  2. James Joyner says:

    @Boyd: People tend to use “bullet” and “round” interchangeably, even though the former is technically a sub-component of the latter.

  3. Boyd says:

    @James Joyner: Calling a round (cartridge) a “bullet” is common, although incorrect. Calling a bullet a “round” is not only uncommon, it’s nonsensical.

    And there are no words to describe the stupidity of “bullet round.”

  4. Boyd says:

    And also, the difference between finding a bullet or a cartridge on the White House grounds is pretty significant, and that’s the main reason why I wish the author of this article actually understood what they were writing about.

    Silly me, a journalist taking the time or making the effort to understand anything about firearms? Talk about your unrealistic expectations!

  5. ponce says:

    Is the security around the White House really that ineffectual?

    In this day and age?

  6. The WH is actually fairly distant from Constitution Avenue —- as opposed to Pennsylvania Avenue on the other side where it’s pretty close to the street — and it’s a main road through the downtown area. There are police around, to be sure, and they apparently chased this car Friday night.