WASHINGTON (JTA) — An 88-year-old white supremacist shot and killed a security guard Wednesday at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum before being shot by two other museum security guards.
Stephen Tyrone Johns, who was on the security staff of the museum for six years, died after being taken to George Washington Hospital in Washington. The shooter, identified as James Wenneker Von Brunn, was taken to the same hospital. Authorities said his injuries were serious.
A third man was injured by shattered glass and was treated at the scene.
The attack marks the fourth time in the last month that Jewish sites or people have been targeted for attack in the United States.
The man who allegedly killed a Jewish Wesleyan University student a month ago was found with a copy of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion"; police infiltrated a group of terrorists that allegedly were plotting to bomb a pair of Bronx synagogues; and the alleged shooter at an Arkansas military recruiting center was found to have conducted research on Jewish sites.
Von Brunn entered the museum sometime after 12:30 p.m. Wednesday with a rifle and opened fire near the metal detectors at the entrance, according to police and museum officials. Police say Von Brunn appeared to have acted alone.
The Anti-Defamation League identified Von Brunn, who reportedly lives in Annapolis, Md., as a longtime white supremacist and anti-Semite who is a retired Naval reserve officer and World War II veteran.
Von Brunn, the ADL said, has a self-published anti-Semitic book titled "Tob Shebbe Goyim Harog" (roughly translated from Hebrew as “Kill the Best Gentiles”), as well as many anti-Semitic essays. He also created an anti-Semitic Web site, HolyWesternEmpire.org.
In 1981, while living in New Hampshire, von Brunn was arrested at the headquarters of the Federal Reserve Board after he tried to use a sawed-off shotgun to take board members hostage. He was convicted of attempted armed kidnapping, second-degree burglary, assault with a dangerous weapon, carrying a pistol without a license and two counts of possession of a prohibited weapon.
Von Brunn was sentenced to four to 11 years in prison in 1983. He ended up serving more than six years.
The museum said it will close Thursday in memory of Johns and its flags will be flown at half staff.
President Obama said he was "shocked and saddened" by the shooting.
"This outrageous act reminds us that we must remain vigilant against anti-Semitism and prejudice in all its forms," he said in a statement. "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."
Witnesses told JTA of the chaos and fear when the gunfire erupted.
Moti Shair of Silver Spring, Md., who was at the museum at the time of the shooting with his family in town from Israel, said he had stepped outside to take a phone call and was just steps away from the gunfire.
“I could hear some of the bullets,” he said.
Shair said he ducked for cover until the shooting was over.
Daniela Castillo, who was part of a large group of Jehovah’s Witnesses from Mexico touring the museum, said she was in the gift shop when the group heard gunfire and that everyone in the shop was told to get on the floor. She said people remained on the floor for about five minutes until they were led out a back door.
“It was a little scary,” said Castillo, 31.
Lindsey Newman, 14, was standing outside the museum’s theater with her family waiting to hear a lecture from a Holocaust survivor when she heard four shots. She and her family were rushed into the theater, where they remained for about an hour.
"I thought we were going to die," Newman said.
With an attack at a museum dedicated to memorializing history’s greatest genocide, she said, "In a way it was history repeating itself in a much smaller way.”
The museum had been scheduled to host an invitation-only premiere of the play “Anne and Emmett” on Wednesday night.
Written by Janet Langhart Cohen, wife of former Defense Secretary William Cohen, the production featured an imaginary meeting between Holocaust victim Anne Frank and Emmett Till, an African-American lynched in Mississippi in 1955 after he was accused of whistling at a white woman.