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Authorities find suicide notes left by White House gunman

Robert W. Pickett  

February 8, 2001
Web posted at: 9:25 p.m. EST (0225 GMT)

In this story:

Suspect 'by no means a violent man'

Pickett discussed suicide, officials say

Incident prompts automatic security review


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- More details emerged Thursday about the alleged gunman who fired shots outside the White House, including a suicide letter he sent last week to the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, declaring, "You are guilty of murder."

Law enforcement sources said they also recovered what could be construed as another suicide note in the suspect's vehicle, found in suburban Virginia near a metro stop.

CNN's Art Harris talks to neighbors of the White House shooting suspect

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Eyewitnesses describe what they saw and heard near the White House

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Eyewitnesses discuss hearing gunshot noises and watching the suspect being apprehended

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Watch slow-motion video of law enforcement officials surrounding the suspect

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CNN Legal Analyst Greta Van Susteren discusses possible charges against Pickett

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Steve Yurks, a friend of the suspect, comments on the motive behind Pickett's alleged actions

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Martin Malley talks to CNN about what he witnessed Tuesday outside the White House

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Police on Thursday were probing the background of 47-year-old Robert Pickett, who was arrested after being shot in the knee by a Secret Service agent Wednesday morning. In a letter published in two Midwestern newspapers Thursday, Pickett said he was "a victim of a corrupt government."

"You are guilty of murder. Your predecessors made decisions which killed an innocent man," Pickett wrote in a letter to the IRS commissioner's office. The letter was published Thursday in the Cincinnati Enquirer and Evansville (Indiana) Courier & Press.

Police sources said they viewed Wednesday's incident as an attempted suicide by Pickett, either by shooting himself or by forcing officers to open fire, a practice known as suicide by cop.

A uniformed Secret Service officer shot Pickett on Wednesday morning after the man refused to surrender a gun he was waving outside the southwest perimeter of the White House grounds, law enforcement officials said.

An initial review of items seized from the Evansville, Indiana, home of Pickett found nothing indicating a threat against President Bush, law enforcement sources told CNN. But the material included "repeated" references to Pickett's anger at his firing by the IRS 13 years ago, one source said.

A federal lawsuit filed by Pickett, claiming he was fired for being a whistleblower, was dismissed last week, the source said. Pickett accused the IRS of allowing its officials to make false statements to the federal court.

"I have failed to accomplish a goal with the truth as my standard. I have no faith in myself or anyone else. I would rather not continue with life, since I will only be subjected to further persecution," the published letter states.

Pickett, a certified public accountant, went through a two-hour operation Wednesday to remove the bullet and bone fragments from his right knee. He was reported in good condition Thursday morning at George Washington University Hospital in Washington.

Copies of Pickett's letter were addressed to Bush, to the attorney general's office, and to two Indiana Republicans in Congress, Sen. Richard Lugar and Rep. John Hostettler.

In the letter, Pickett argues that he suffers from mental illness that could be overcome but that "these bureaucrats deliberately took improper actions which aggravated my mental illness."

"My life has been destroyed because I believed the truth would prevail," Pickett wrote. "I wish I had the strength to continue to fight this evil with honor. The hypocrites who refused to perform their duty will eventually have to answer to their own conscience."

Suspect 'by no means a violent man'

The shooting took place shortly after Bush held a tax-cut event on the south lawn of the White House. Press secretary Ari Fleischer said Bush was in no danger; nor was Vice President Dick Cheney, who was working in his White House office.

Federal agents remove computer parts and files from the home of Robert Pickett in Evansville, Indiana, on Wednesday.  

Friends said Pickett had discussed his grievance with the IRS but was generally a pleasant man.

"I saw him twice, I think, last week," Mike Jewel, a neighbor, told CNN. "The last day was Friday. He came to the shop to give us an update on our taxes, and he had good news for us and we were joking around. I saw nothing unusual about him."

Added Stephen Yurks, a friend and client since 1988: "Robert was by no means a violent man. I believe this was just a cry for help or a cry for someone to listen to him."

Prosecutors are examining whether Pickett should face federal or local charges in connection with the incident once he is released from the hospital.

The White House Emergency Response Team member who fired the shot at Pickett, according to two sources, was inside the White House complex and took aim through the iron fence that surrounds the compound. Pickett was on a sidewalk just outside the perimeter of the White House grounds.

Sources say Pickett had fired several rounds from a five-shot, .38-caliber revolver that was recovered at the scene.

Officers approached Pickett at 11:22 a.m. and tried to talk him into surrendering his weapon. He was shot and taken into custody at 11:36 a.m.

Pickett bought the gun used in the shooting at a pawn shop in Evansville last year after passing a federal background check, store comptroller David Sisson told CNN.

When Pickett cleared the check, Sisson said, "The store proceeded with the sale." He said ATF agents have the records of the purchase and referred further questions to federal officials. Sisson declined to describe the type of gun or ammunition Pickett bought.

Pickett discussed suicide, officials say

The Secret Service said that when the suspect was told to surrender his gun, the man spoke of his desire to commit suicide. Sources said at no time did Pickett try to climb the fence or otherwise enter the White House grounds.

Members of President Bush's Secret Service detail and other police officers gather outside the White House on Wednesday.  

Witnesses close to the scene told CNN that the incident unfolded quickly outside the White House's imposing wrought-iron fence.

"He was just standing in the street and just randomly fired a few shots," said one witness, Martin Manley.

Manley said he was about 75 or 80 feet away, and no police officers were in the area when he heard the first shots.

"I could hear them talking to [the suspect]," he said. "They told him to 'Drop the gun, it doesn't have to be this way. We can talk to you.' There was one more shot, then they immediately converged on him," Manley said.

Authorities said they believe Pickett was the only person involved in the incident.

Secret Service agents sealed off the White House as soon as the suspect's presence became known, and officers with assault rifles were seen running across the grounds. Others combed the roof of the White House as a helicopter hovered overhead. The entrance between the Treasury Department and the White House was immediately closed, and White House tour groups were quickly ushered out of the building.

Incident prompts automatic security review

Fleischer said the incident will prompt an automatic review of White House safety measures.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told a news conference Wednesday that President Bush was not in any danger during the incident.  

"Nobody ever wants to have to go through anything like this," he said. "Not for the Secret Service, not for the people who work here, and of course the suspect. We are all grateful for the people who protect our president."

Secret Service officials said it is routine to reassess White House security measures after such incidents but said preliminary indications were that the officers inside and outside the compound had reacted quickly and appropriately.

Security has been tightened in and around the White House in recent years. The most significant change was the closing of the section of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the Executive Mansion. Wednesday's incident was on the opposite side of the White House, the south side facing the Ellipse and the Washington Monument.

In May 1995, Secret Service officers shot a man who scaled a White House fence, carrying an unloaded gun. An official said at the time that the man had asked to see President Clinton.

Nine months earlier, a pilot died when he crashed a small plane on the South Lawn of the White House. About a month later, a man pulled a rifle from under his trench coat and sprayed the front of the White House with bullets.

More than a mile east of the White House, in the summer of 1998, a gunman went on a shooting spree in the U.S. Capitol, killing two policemen.

Russell Eugene Weston, 43, still has not stood trial for the slayings because doctors have said he is mentally ill and unable to do so. He remains incarcerated.

In March 1981, a gunman shot President Reagan, his press secretary, James Brady, and a Washington policeman outside a Washington hotel as the president was getting into his motorcade.

CNN national correspondents Mike Boettcher and Art Harris contributed to this report.

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