Just as the Obama family was preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving, a man jumped the White House fence, triggering a lockdown.
According to a statement from the Secret Service, Joseph Caputo vaulted over the north fence line of the grounds of the White House at around 2:45 pm Thursday, clad in a US flag and clenching a binder in his teeth. He was instantly apprehended and arrested, and criminal charges are pending. The Secret Service gave no further details of the suspect.
— NBCWashington (@nbcwashington) November 26, 2015
NPR reports that a witness to the incident, Victoria Pena from Houston, saw Caputo was standing with other visitors to the White House compound when he suddenly rushed to the fence carrying what she said appeared to be a binder.
Pena said she just heard him “take a big, deep breath and whisper to himself, ‘All right, let’s do this’ and he took off.”
“It was chaotic. Everyone around us was yelling and kids were crying. It was pretty unexpected.”
She added that security personnel with guard dogs immediately ran towards the man, and he lay down on the grass, waiting for them. A video of the interview by AP with Pena is included at the end of this article.
As reported by Reuters, the White House was then immediately locked down as the Security Service ran a security sweep of the area.
According to Secret Service spokesman, Robert Hoback, the north and south fence lines were temporarily closed. Nearby streets were also closed off as part of the security alert. In the hours following the incident, many armed security personnel were spotted in the streets outside the executive mansion.
— The Hill (@thehill) November 27, 2015
The incident comes amid heightened security concerns in the US and other Western countries following the Paris terror attacks on November 13 that killed 130 people. The Islamic State took responsibility for the terror attacks in Paris, which included a football stadium, several cafes, and a concert hall as targets, and IS has since threatened to attack Washington, DC, and other locations.
According to a public schedule, US President Barack Obama and his wife and daughters were at the White House to celebrate Thanksgiving. A photo taken by the official White House photographer was posted online earlier in the day showing Obama making phone calls to various members of the US military.
A witness had taken photos of Thursday’s incident of the US flag-draped man vaulting the White House fence and landing on the other side with his arms outstretched.
According to the New York Post, Caputo wrote anti-government posts on his Facebook page wsuggesting he was planning to use Thanksgiving to celebrate “self-government.”
Caputo reportedly wrote: “Today has as much to do with turkeys and pilgrims as Easter does with eggs and rabbits.”
“So today, don’t think of what your planet can do for you, think about what you can do for your planet.”
The incident on Thanksgiving marks at least the third time someone has jumped the fence at the White House this year. The Secret Service has recently taken steps to improve security, including adding spikes to the top of the fence to make it more difficult for people to jump over and gain access to the grounds.
Back in July this year, one woman was arrested in a similar incident at the White House and another person was arrested in April.