An 88-year-old white supremacist shot and killed a security guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on Wednesday 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 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 plotting to bomb a pair of Bronx synagogues, and the 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. on Wednesday afternoon with a rifle and opened fire near the metal detectors at the museum’s entrance, according to police and museum officials.
Von Brunn, who reportedly lives in Annapolis, Md., was identified by the Anti-Defamation League as a long-time white supremacist and anti-Semite who is a retired Naval reserve officer and World War II veteran. The ADL said he has a self-published anti-Semitic book titled “Tob Shebbe Goyim Harog” (rough Hebrew for “Kill the Best Gentiles”), as well as many anti-Semitic essays. He also created an anti-Semitic Web site, HolyWesternEmpire.org.
In 1981, von Brunn, then living in New Hampshire, 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. He was sentenced to four to 11 years in prison in 1983. He ended up serving more than six years.
Police say Von Brunn appeared to have acted alone.
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 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. Everyone in the shop was told to get on the floor, where they remained 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 andher 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 a 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.
The museum said it will be closed Thursday in memory of Johns, the security guard who was killed, and the museum’s flags will be flown at half staff.