Ken Davis of Hagerstown made his first trip to the nation's capital on Saturday, hoping to spend the day touring the monuments with his out-of-town buddy, Lee Brooks.
They bypassed the crowded Washington Monument and headed to the White House -- just in time for Mr. Davis to help tackle a man who opened fire on the president's home with a semiautomatic rifle.
Together with another tourist, Harry Rakosky, Mr. Davis lunged at a 26-year-old Colorado man shortly after 3 p.m. on Saturday after he unloaded a clip from his Chinese-made assault rifle through the wrought iron fence of the White House.
Mr. Davis spent the rest of the day being debriefed by the Secret Service, the FBI, Park Police and Washington police. A TV magazine show put the two friends up Saturday night at the tony Willard Hotel, where the Willard's security chief asked for Mr. Davis' autograph and where he told and retold the story in the hotel's restaurant. Yesterday, he was on the "Today" show and CNN.
"Interesting first trip," said the 24-year-old Hagerstown resident.
The man who spent three uneventful years as an Air Force security officer was standing less than 15 feet away from the gunman, peering through the bars at a group entering the White House He turned just in time to see a man police identified as Francisco Martin Duran, 26, of Colorado Springs, pull out a Chinese-made SKS rifle and open fire.
"Lee and I couldn't believe it was going on," Mr. Davis recalled. "He was walking and firing at the White House."
Mr. Davis counted about a dozen rounds and kept thinking, "We've got to do something." He and other tourists pressed toward the gunman. "We started backing up when he pointed the gun at the crowd," he said. Everything seemed to move in slow motion, he said.
Screaming tourists --ed toward Lafayette Park across Pennsylvania Avenue.
About 100 people were in the area, including an Indiana youth group, he said. Turning back toward the White House, Mr. Duran emptied the clip with a half-dozen staccato bursts. "He was going to reload the second clip. He was fumbling with it."
Suddenly, Mr. Rakosky, a 34-year-old security specialist from San Antonio, Tex., pounced and hit Mr. Duran square in the back. Mr. Davis lunged at the same time, grabbing his legs and holding him to the ground. Bullets from the broken clip scattered over the sidewalk.
"He didn't say a word at all," Mr. Davis said. "He wasn't even there. He was out in space somewhere. He showed no expression, a passive face." Mr. Brooks, 25, of Newark, Ohio, a customer service representative for a transportation company, followed his friend, making sure the suspect didn't get up and scanning for other gunmen. "I stood there and covered his back," he said.
Within 30 seconds Secret Service officers descended on them, some even clambering over the fence. "One of them came up and said, 'I had him in my sights and I was going to shoot him,' " recalled Mr. Davis. But the officer said he held his fire when he saw the men rush in to the line of fire.
Secret Service officers took them next door the Old Executive Office Building to recount the incident and tell them they would be called later as witnesses. "They thanked us a bunch of times," said Mr. Davis. "They asked us what made us do it."
All gave similar replies. "The answer was: It was the thing to do. The thing that had to be done."
"They said I might be hearing from [President Clinton]," Mr. Davis said. "They didn't promise anything."
A Republican who voted for President Bush in 1992, Mr. Davis said he likes President Clinton, whom he described as a "people person." Will he vote for him next time?
"I don't know," said Mr. Davis, chuckling. "Maybe if I meet him."
He wasn't afraid and he "didn't think about dying," Mr. Davis said.
"I didn't want anyone getting hurt, especially the president," said the native of Beeville, Tex., who just completed training as a prison guard and will report to the Maryland House of Corrections Annex in Jessup in November.
But he admitted that as he lay in his bed at the Willard at 2 a.m., he thought about how fortunate it was that a moment in the spotlight didn't turn deadly.
"I just hope if it happens again, I can answer the call," he said.