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Thursday, June 11, 2009

3 People Shot at DC Holocaust Museum

Holocaust Museum: No words to express our grief and shock
By Natasha Mozgovaya, Haaretz Correspondent and News Agencies

The United States Holocaust Museum Director on Thursday expressed her shock at the fatal shooting that took place at the museum the day before, saying "obviously, there are no words to express our grief and shock."

Sara Bloomfield described Stephen T. Johns, the security guard killed when a neo-Nazi opened fire in the museum as "a great friend who greeted us every day with a wonderful smile - and he will be missed."

The Museum will be closed Thursday in tribute to Johns; Holocaust Museum director Sara Bloomfield said that flags at the museum have been lowered to half-staff in honor of the slain.
Johns, who is African-American and a 1988 graduate of Crossland High School in Maryland, worked for Wackenhut Services Inc., which has contracted security services at the museum since 2002, according to a company statement. Johns had been posted at the museum since joining the firm in 2003. The museum has about 70 officers and supervisors on the force.

U.S. President Barack Obama and others commended the work of Johns and the other guards.

"We have lost a courageous security guard who stood watch at this place of solemn remembrance," Obama said in a statement. "My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends in this painful time."

Washington D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty also had words of praise.

"The men and women in uniform who put their lives on the line to ensure our safety are truly heroes, and I am deeply saddened that this senseless act of violence threatened the safety of our community," Fenty said in a statement.

The security guard died of his wounds in hospital a few hours after the attack and the assailant was listed in critical condition.

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 firing.

Law enforcement officials said James W. von Brunn, an 88-year-old 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.

Bill Parsons, chief of staff at the museum, said Johns and other guards did exactly what they were supposed to do to protect people at the museum.

"Never take your guard force and security people for granted," he said.

Lanier said the gunman appeared to have acted alone. Fire department spokesman Alan Etter told CNN a third person was hurt after being cut by broken glass.

The museum normally has a heavy security presence with guards positioned both inside and outside. All visitors are required to pass through metal detectors at the entrance, and bags are screened.

In the wake of the shootout, the New York Police Department stepped up security at the city's Museum of Jewish Heritage and other Jewish landmarks Wednesday, the New York Daily News reported.

Uniformed police officers were stationed outside the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park City minutes after the murder of a security guard in the nation's capital, according to the paper.

The attack came hours before Eric Holder, America's first black attorney general, was due to attend a play at the museum in honor of Anne Frank.

The museum, located just off the National Mall near the Washington Monument, is a popular tourist attraction. It draws about 1.7 million visitors each year.

Roads surrounding the museum were closed just after the attack.

Stephanie Geraghty, 28, who had been visiting the museum, said the shooter appeared to be a white male carrying a silver gun.

"I heard the first shot, it sounded like something had been dropped from the upper stories down," she told Reuters. "The next two came really fast - bam bam. At that point everyone took off, chaos, running."

A woman whose teenaged daughter was visiting the museum at the time of the shooting said that the children heard several gunshots before they were evacuated from the building.

Sandy Perkins says her daughter, Abigail, called her shortly after the
shooting and said some of her friends were very shaken, but otherwise were fine.

The teens did not see where the shots were coming from before they were safely evacuated to buses outside the museum.

Police search Von Brunn's home in wake of shooting

Von Brunn is being investigated as the prime suspect in the shooting at the U.S. Holocaust Museum, according to unnamed law enforcement agents, but officials have declined to publicly confirm him as their suspect.

According to Joseph Persichini, assistant director in charge of the Washington FBI field office, authorities have dispatched people to a suspect's home to check his computer. He said they are investigating this as a possible hate crime or domestic terrorism.

Von Brunn has a racist, anti-Semitic Web site and wrote a book called Kill the Best Gentile.

In 1983, Von Brunn was convicted of attempting to kidnap members of the
Federal Reserve Board. 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 difficulties.

On his Web site, Von Brunn says he was a PT boat captain in the U.S. Navy
Reserves during World War II.