Army veteran arrested with rifle, ammunition outside vice president's residence told police he was 'looking for help'
By PETER HERMANN AND PAUL DUGGAN | The Washington Post | Published: March 19, 2021
WASHINGTON — A Texas man and Army veteran arrested outside the vice president's residence on Wednesday told an officer "he was looking for help" and "wanted to talk to the president" before leading police to his vehicle, which contained a rifle and 113 rounds of ammunition, according to court documents.
Police had been searching for 31-year-old Paul Murray since Tuesday, when authorities in College Station, Texas, distributed an intelligence bulletin warning he thought he was being targeted by the government and had texted his mother that he was in the District of Columbia "to take care of his problem."
The Texas police bulletin also advises that Murray told police he had been medically discharged from the Army, where he had worked as a remote drone operator at a base within the United States.
An Army spokesman said Murray had a rank of specialist and had been assigned as an unmanned aerial vehicle operator from March 2010 through April 2014. He had no deployments.
The spokesman declined to discuss the reason for his discharge.
District Superior Court Magistrate Judge Heide Herrmann on Thursday ordered Murray detained until his next court appearance April 17, agreeing with prosecutors that Murray is dangerous. She ordered him to undergo a mental competency evaluation.
Murray was charged with illegal possession of a firearm and possession of a large-capacity ammunition magazine. Police said they found five magazines that could each hold 30 rounds.
There is no indication Murray, from San Antonio, made any direct threats, but his arrest came amid heightened security alerts following the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol and recent attacks targeting Asian Americans. Vice President Kamala Harris is Black and Asian.
Murray's defense attorney, Cheline Schroeder, said during Thursday's hearing that there is no strong evidence Murray is dangerous, and she called for the charges to be dropped, saying that, if anything, possession of the firearm is a statutory violation, not a felony charge.
Schroeder noted that Murray's vehicle, and firearm, were found in a garage in downtown Washington, three miles from where her client was arrested. She said he had no intent to use the weapon.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Cameron Tepfer told the court Murray is "reportedly schizophrenic" and has been off his medication "for a period of years."
Court documents say that on March 12, authorities in Brazos County, Texas, obtained a "mental health warrant" allowing for Murray's "emergency detention." The warrant states, according to the court documents, that Murray "thinks he is going to be murdered" by someone in the government.
The bulletin distributed by College Station police four days later says he told officers he had been attacked by a group called "3 Stones" while he was in the military overseas and that "he would hurt someone 'if it was justified.'" It says Murray complained to police in Texas he was not getting enough support, had stopped taking his medication and had been drugged or poisoned on a recent trip to Japan.
Efforts to reach Murray's family on Thursday were not successful.
A uniformed U.S. Secret Service agent first encountered Murray shortly after noon on Wednesday at Massachusetts Avenue and Observatory Circle in Northwest Washington and took him into custody.
The vice president traditionally lives on the grounds of the Naval Observatory, though it could not be determined whether Harris's family was there on Wednesday. After the inauguration, they had been staying at Blair House near the White House while the permanent residence underwent renovations.
During his arrest, court documents say, Murray directed police to his vehicle, a black Chevrolet Impala with Texas license plates parked in a garage in the 600 block of Massachusetts Avenue NW, two blocks from the Gallery Place-Chinatown Metro station.
Inside, police said, they found a case containing a Smith & Wesson AR-15 rifle and the ammunition. Authorities said Murray purchased the firearm in Texas in 2017.
The Washington Post's Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.