Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Breaking News: 2 People Shot at U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (update)

Well it looks like the guard who was shot at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum earlier today was killed. According to The Washington Post:

Gunman Shoots, Kills Guard at Holocaust Museum
Suspect Identified as White Supremacist

A lone gunman known to authorities as a white supremacist shot and fatally wounded a private security guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in downtown Washington today before being shot and wounded by guards who returned fire, officials said.

The security guard, who police identified as 39-year-old Stephen Tyrone Johns of Temple Hills, and the gunman were both taken to George Washington University Hospital.

Johns died at the hospital, authorities said later, and the gunman, who was not identified, was reported to be in critical condition. A third person sustained minor injuries in the incident, according to police. Museum officials said in a statement that Johns had worked at the museum for six years. The museum said it would be closed tomorrow, and lower its flags to half-staff, to honor Johns's memory. "There are no words to express our grief," the statement said.

A law enforcement source identified the gunman as James W. von Brunn, 88. On a Web site he apparently maintains extolling a "Holy Western Empire," von Brunn says he served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, worked for 20 years as an advertising executive and film producer in New York and then became "an artist and author" living in Maryland.

Police recovered a notebook from the gunman that apparently contained a list of different D.C. locations, law enforcement sources said. D.C. police bomb squads were called to search and secure those locations after the shooting, including one in the 1400 block of Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House.

"Everything is getting checked out," a police source said. No other details on the locations were immediately available.

Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who serves on the board of the museum, said in a statement, "We are horrified by what happened in Washington today. It is especially shocking that this attack took place at a museum designed to prevent violence and remind us of the dangers of hatred and bigotry."

Sgt. David Schlosser, a spokesman for the U.S. Park Police, said the security guard and the gunman were the only two people hit by gunshots in the museum shooting. He said the museum has been "completely secured and evacuated."

A spokesman for the museum, Andy Hollinger, said in a statement that after the gunman opened fire, "two Museum security officers returned fire hitting the assailant."

Police initially identified the attacker's weapon as a shotgun, but D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier later said it appeared to be a rifle.

The gunman "came into the entrance and immediately opened fire, striking one security guard," D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said. "There was gunfire returned; the gunman was hit."

Fenty said the gunman is in critical condition.

Fenty called the shooting "an extremely isolated incident" and said the security guards "performed exceptionally well and behaved exactly as they were supposed to." He praised "the heroism of the security guards."

Lanier said the assailant appeared to be "a lone gunman who entered the museum and opened fire with what appears to be a rifle at this point." The assailant's weapon was visible as he entered the museum, she said.

"Immediately as he entered the front doors of the museum, he raised the rifle and started shooting," she said. "The second he stepped into the building, he began firing."

Police have used bomb-sniffing dogs to sweep the museum and the area around it as a routine precaution, Lanier said.

An off-duty D.C. police officer who was nearby responded to the museum immediately after the shooting, along with U.S. Park Police who were patrolling in the area, officials said. They helped the wounded guard until medical crews arrived.

A spokeswoman for Wackenhut Services Inc., confirmed that the company provides security for the museum. According to the company's Web site, Wackenhut is the U.S. government's "largest contractor for professional security services."

The company has more than 8,000 employees in the United States and abroad. In the National Capital Region, it has 1,000 employees and 10 security contracts.

In a short biography on his Web site, von Brunn gave his birth year as 1920 and wrote that held a journalism degree from a "mid-Western university."

He boasted in the Web biography and on a Wikipedia page of an escapade in which he attempted to take over the Federal Reserve on Dec. 7, 1981, holding the Board of Governors "under citizens arrest" and charging them with treason. He was captured, tried and sentenced to 11 years in federal prison. He blamed a "Negro jury," "Jew/Negro attorneys" and "a Jew judge" for his conviction.

Upon his release after serving 6 1/2 years in prison, von Brunn said he joined Mensa, the society for people who score in the top 2 percent of a standardized intelligence test. An executive assistant at Mensa, Joy Martin, confirmed that von Brunn was a member for a year starting April 2, 1987. But he was dropped from the membership rolls in 1988 for failing to pay dues.

According to the biography, Von Brunn captained a PT Boat in World War II and earned "four battle stars." That claim could not be immediately substantiated.

A woman who opened the door at von Brunn's apartment, in a neighborhood outside downtown Annapolis, declined to comment.

Neighbors, who asked that they not be identified, said that they recently invited von Brunn to their home for a drink and that he unexpectedly brought up his belief that the Holocaust did not occur.

"He didn't believe the Holocaust existed. It was just off the wall," one of the neighbors said.

The shooting was reported to police at 12:52 p.m., and officers rushed to the scene just south of Independence Ave. bordering the Mall.

Scores of police and emergency vehicles converged on the scene, blocking 14th Street, a major artery between downtown Washington and the Virginia suburbs. Police closed the area around the museum. They said they were trying to reopen 14th Street to traffic as soon as possible.

One witness, Dave Unruh, of Wichita, Kan., said he was waiting to enter the museum when he heard one gunshot, then a sequence of four or five gunshots. He said he then heard someone scream, "Hit the floor!" He and his wife, Karen, and their two teenage grandchildren dropped to the floor and were subsequently herded out of the building by authorities.

Unruh called the experience "intensely, extremely frightening."

By 1 p.m., the street in front of the museum was blocked by a museum police officer. A group of schoolchildren was rushed onto a chartered luxury coach and the bus driver struggled to pull away from the block.

Kimberly Frank, 44, of Chicago, said she was coming out of the museum with her 14-year-old son Tyler when "we heard shots, pretty consecutive, within seconds."

"We were on the lower level, just getting ready to exit," Frank said. "I was thinking about what I'd just experienced through the whole memorial. I wasn't thinking too much of it till I came outside and saw all the people running around."

Schlosser, the Park Police spokesman, said an unidentified man walked into the museum about 12:50 p.m. with a "long gun." The gunman was just outside the museum's metal detectors when he was confronted by a security guard, police said.

After the shooting, a U.S. Park Police SWAT team swarmed into the building and carried out a search for anyone else who may have been involved, Schlosser said. He said the gunman apparently acted alone.

Trevor Ezelo, 18, from Arizona, said: "Basically we were in the propaganda exhibit, walking around, and all of a sudden we heard five shots. We all started looking around. We didn't even think it was gunshots. We thought it was something that fell over. Then a security guard ran in, saying, 'Move back into the exhibit!'"

Then, Ezelo said, "some lady ran in crying, and we all knew something was wrong."

In a statement e-mailed to museum staff shortly after the shooting, William Parsons, the museum's chief of staff, said all staff and visitors were safe.

"One of our guards was shot and has been taken to the hospital," he said. "The suspect who committed the shooting was shot by our guards and has been taken to the hospital."

He asked employees to remain in their offices until police finished conducting a sweep of the museum.

Since it opened nearly two decades ago, the Holocaust museum has become a top attraction for school groups and tourists from across
the nation. Groups of various races and ethnic backgrounds converge on the striking stone building daily to tour exhibits that document, in chilling detail, the extermination of 6 million Jews and millions of other people by Germany's Nazi regime during World War II.

The museum also has played an active role in documenting and decrying what it describes as more recent attempts at genocide, including conflicts in Darfur and Bosnia.

Law enforcement officials attend sensitivity training programs there, and elderly Holocaust survivors have come to the facility -- children and grandchildren in tow -- for emotional reunions that attest to the failure of the Nazis to achieve their goal.

About 400 employees and 300 volunteers work at the museum, which is both publicly and privately funded.

The FBI sent "members of its National Capital Response Squad, including agents and team members on SWAT, Evidence Recovery and the Joint Terrorism Task Force, to provide on-scene support," said John Perren, special agent in charge of the Washington Field Office's Counterterrorism Division. "The situation is fluid and therefore no other statements will be made at this time," he said.

A leading U.S. Muslim organization, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, condemned "this apparent bias-motivated attack" and said it stands "with the Jewish community and with Americans of all faiths in repudiating the kind of hatred and intolerance that can lead to such disturbing incidents."

So it appears that the hope that I expressed earlier today that this shooting would not be another violent expression of anti-Semitism looks to have been in vain. And I can't help but wonder if Mr. Johns, the murdered security guard, was the guard who checked me through the Museum's metal detector just a few weeks ago.

I tried to take a look at the webpage mentioned in The Washington Post's article, but it appears that the site has been taken down. I guess that's good; we don't need any more whackjobs being exposed to the killer's writings, but it would have been interesting to see if there was an explanation for the hate he must have felt.

I suppose Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and especially Pat Buchanan will blame this attack on President Obama, too. It is time that we start to take hate speech seriously. How many right-wing attacks does it take before we start to recognize it for what it is: terrorism? And how many right-wing attacks will it take before some of the crazy voices of hate on the TV and radio will recognize as (or be recognized for) inciting those attacks? Just think: Since President Obama was inaugurated we've had several right-wing attacks on police, the killing of an abortion doctor, and this attack at the Holocaust Memorial Museum, not to mention the arrest of at least one other right-winger with bomb-making materials.

Oh, and it's a good thing that it's easy to obtain hunting rifles!

(Update: I mistakenly only posted the first part of The Washington Post's article; the entire article has now been posted.)

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