WASHINGTON (AP) - An 88-year-old gunman with a violent and
virulently anti-Semitic past opened fire with a rifle inside the
crowded U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on Wednesday, fatally
wounding a security guard before being shot himself by other
officers, authorities said.
The assailant was hospitalized in critical condition, leaving
behind a sprawling investigation by federal and local law
enforcement and expressions of shock from the Israeli government
and a prominent Muslim organization.
Washington Police Chief Cathy Lanier said the gunman was
"engaged by security guards immediately after entering the door"
with a rifle. "The second he stepped into the building he began
Law enforcement officials said James W. von Brunn, a white
supremacist, was under investigation in the shooting and that his
car was found near the museum and tested for explosives. The weapon was a .22-caliber rifle, they added. They spoke on condition of
anonymity, saying they were not authorized to discuss the
investigation just beginning.
Officials identified the dead guard as Stephen Tyrone Johns, 39,
a six-year veteran of the facility who lived in Temple Hills, Md.
Museum Director Sara Bloomfield said he "died heroically in the
line of duty."
At the White House, just blocks away from the museum, President
Barack Obama said, "This outrageous act reminds us that we must
remain vigilant against anti-Semitism and prejudice in all its
forms. No American institution is more important to this effort
than the Holocaust Museum, and no act of violence will diminish our
determination to honor those who were lost by building a more
peaceful and tolerant world."
Von Brunn has a racist, anti-Semitic Web site and wrote a book
titled "Kill the Best Gentiles," alleging a Jewish "conspiracy
to destroy the white gene pool."
In 1983, he was convicted of attempting to kidnap members of the
Federal Reserve Board and served more than six years in prison. He
was arrested two years earlier outside the room where the board was
meeting, carrying a revolver, knife and sawed-off shotgun. At the
time, police said von Brunn wanted to take the members hostage
because of high interest rates and the nation's economic
Writings attributed to von Brunn on the Internet say the
Holocaust was a hoax and decry a Jewish conspiracy to "destroy the
white gene pool."
"At Auschwitz the 'Holocaust' myth became Reality, and Germany,
cultural gem of the West, became a pariah among world nations," it
The museum, which opened in 1993 and has drawn nearly 30 million
visitors, houses exhibits and records relating to the Holocaust of
more than a half century ago in which more than six million Jews
died at the hands of Nazis. Its Web site says the museum "teaches
millions of people each year about the dangers of unchecked hatred
and the need to prevent genocide."
The museum was crowded with school children and other tourists
at the time of the attack, but they all escaped injury in the
outburst of violence.
Ashley Camp, 14, of Forsyth, Ill., on a field trip with more
than 40 other students, said she heard two or three gunshots. Soon
after, she recalled, a security guard ordered the group to run to
"We had to sprint as fast as we could out the door," she said.
"I thought it was the movie (part of a museum exhibit), but then
everyone started screaming and running."
The attack was the third in a recent wave of unsettling
shootings that appeared to have political or ethnic underpinnings.
A 23-year-old Army private, William Andrew Long, was shot and
killed outside a recruiting office this month in Arkansas and a
fellow soldier was wounded. The suspect, a Muslim convert, has said
he considers the killing justified because of the U.S. military
presence in the Middle East.
Late last month, abortion provider Dr. George Tiller was shot to
death in his church.
Johns, the security guard killed Wednesday, was black.
Only last week, Obama visited the site of a German concentration
camp at Buchenwald in Germany where he noted, "There are those who insist the Holocaust never happened." He added, "This place is
the ultimate rebuke to such thoughts, a reminder of our duty to
confront those who would tell lies about our history."
In a statement from Israel's government, Information and
Diaspora Minister Yuli Edelstein said the shooting was "further
proof that anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial have not passed from
And the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a prominent
American Muslim organization, said in a statement, "We condemn
this apparent bias-motivated attack and stand with the Jewish
community and with Americans of all faiths in repudiating the kind
of hatred and intolerance that can lead to such disturbing
Within minutes after the attack, federal agents were dispatched
to von Brunn's home in Annapolis, Md., to check his computer.
Joseph Persichini, assistant director in charge of the Washington
FBI field office, said the shootings were being investigated as a
possible hate crime or a case of domestic terrorism.
According to a relative, von Brunn attended Washington
University in St. Louis and is an artist.
He was commissioned as a naval officer decades ago, and
discharged from the Navy in 1956. A cousin, Virginia Gerker of St.
Louis, said in an interview she hadn't seen him in 50 years. She
said her family had "disowned" him believed him to be mentally
About a dozen years ago, he applied to have his art shown at a
gallery in Easton, Md., according to two of the owners. Laura Era
and Jennifer Wharton said they rejected his work and he stomped
Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center said von Brunn's
Web site has long been listed as a hate site.
The Rev. David Ostendorf, executive director of Center for a New
Community in Chicago, a national civil rights group, said von Brunn
has described in his own writings a long relationship with Willis
Carto, founder of the Liberty Lobby, the Spotlight Newspaper and a
well-known white supremacist and anti-Semite.