Incident may have been suicide attempt
By Maria Koklanarls and Jim Keary
Leland William Modjeski, a 37-year-old former graduate student
unemployed since November when he quit his job delivering pizzas,
had a history of mental problems and may have been trying to
commit suicide when he scaled a fence at the White House late
Tuesday, law enforcement authorities and sources said yesterday.
Federal prosecutor Eric Dubelier said there was "some indication
of a mental history." He did not elaborate, but an investigator
speaking on the condition of anonymity said Mr. Modjeski's wife
had been concerned about his mental stability.
Two law enforcement officials said investigators suspect that
Mr. Modjeski, armed with an empty revolver when he was shot once
in the arm near the south entrance to the White House, wanted to
draw police fire. Others said Mr. Modjeski, who faces felony
charges for assault and firearms violations, was deeply
Sources said Mr. Modjeski's actions -- trying to get to the
White House when he knew he would be caught, bringing an unloaded
gun that could only attract attention suggest a depressed man's
attempt to commit suicide.
Ivy Modjeski, Mr. Modjeski's stepmother, said she and her
husband didn't know anything about the charges facing her
"We're just as shocked as everyone else," Mrs. Modjeski said.
"We don't have anything else to say. Details began to emerge
yesterday about Mr. Modjeski, who lives in the Falls Church area
of Fairfax County. He graduated from Mount Vernon High School in
1976 and took courses on and off for the next 10 years at the
Northern Virginia Community College, where he majored in general
studies, a loosely structured discipline for students who have
not decided on an area of concentration. In 1986, he transferred
to George Mason University, a spokeswoman for the community
college said. Mr. Modjeski received a bachelor's degree in
psychology, with distinction, in 1989, George Mason spokeswoman
Michelle Braithwaite said. She said the honors were based on both
his good grades and letters of recommendation.
Mr. Modjeski then enrolled In the university's doctoral program
in psychology, Ms. Braithwaite said. The university allows
doctoral candidates to obtain a master's degree at the same time
they are pursuing their doctorates, she said.
Mr. Modjeski earned a master's degree in psychology in 1992. He
stayed at the university doing research for a doctorate until six
months ago, when he abruptly stopped. His field was industrial
organizational psychology, which includes the study of what
motivates people in the work force. "My experience was that he
was a strong student, did well, turned things in on time," said
Louis Buffardi, Mr. Modjeski's adviser. "There were no academic
problems that surfaced -- and no nonacademic ones."
Professors in the psychology department described Mr. Modjeski
as a stellar student who worked hard. When he entered the
graduate program, h'e was given a teaching assistant's job,
something generally reserved for high achieving students.
Mr. Modjeski apparently never worked as a psychologist. His last
job was delivering Pizzas for the Pizza Hut in the 7600 block of
Lee Highway, near his home. He began the part-time job June 30,
1994, earning between $4.25 and $4.75 an hour, and was fired on
The manager and several employees at the Lee Highway Pizza Hut
refused comment yesterday. Rob Doughty, spokesman for Pizza Hut's
national headquarters in Wichita, Kan., declined to say yesterday
why the chain fired Mr. Modjeski but said it was not for carrying
Mr. Buffardi was surprised to hear that Mr. Modjeski wound up
delivering pizzas in the summer.
The job market is good for those with such degrees, he said.
"They usually do not take very long to get professional-level
jobs" as researchers or with government contractors or training
Mr. Modjeski's neighbors in Great Oak Square, a complex of 64
two-story town houses just south of Falls Church, said they
frequently saw him and his wife, Rosemary, around the 2800 block
of Prince Albert Court, where they live. They called him quiet
serious, almost somber.
The Modjeskis had no children, the neighbors said. and kept to
themselves. Mr. Modjeski's wife once took care of children and
for a while seemed to be working outside their home.
"The only thing I saw that was unusual was that she was always
driving the car and he [always] was sitting in the passenger
seat," said neighbor Ernestine Jones, 47.
Ms. Jones said she has lived in the neighborhood since 1982,
moving in just before the Modjeskis bought their two-story brick
The Pizza Hut is a block from where Stephen Needles, a Fairfax
County police officer, was doused with homemade napalm and set
afire, but there does not appear to be a link, the Secret Service
Officer Needles, who was burned May 1, was released from
Washington Hospital Center yesterday and is recuperating from
Brian Blomquist, J. Jennings Moss, Brian Reilly and Cesar G.
Soriuno contributed to this story, which is based in part on wire
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
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