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Hatemonger Guns Down Guard at Holocaust Museum


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Story posted 2009.06.10 at 01:10 PM EDT

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WASHINGTON -- An 88-year-old gunman with ties to white supremacist groups stormed into the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Wednesday where he fatally wounded a guard before he was shot by other officers, police said.

The man, identified by NBC News as James Wennecker von Brunn, parked his car with a handicapped placard on the street and allegedly walked into the museum on 14th Street carrying a .22-caliber rifle, and exchanged gunfire with a security guard about 10 minutes before 1 p.m., according to U.S Park Police Sgt. David Schlosser. Two other security guards then fired upon the gunman, reportedly striking him in the head, critically wounding him.

"The guy came in with a shotgun and started shooting at the police officers," one witness said. "He had a Confederate hat on. We thought it was a joke or something."

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."

D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty said the gunman was in critical condition at a local hospital. The slain security guard, Stephen Tyrone Johns, 39, was transported to a hospital in grave condition and later died. A third person suffered minor injuries, possibly from broken glass, and was treated at the scene, said Alan Etter, of D.C. Fire and EMS.

"There are no words to express our grief and shock over today’s events," said Holocaust Museum Director Sara Bloomfield. "It is my sad duty to inform you of the passing of Officer Stephen Tyrone Johns, who died heroically in the line of duty today. He served on the Museum’s security staff for six years. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Officer Johns’s family."

Bloomfield said the museum would be closed Thursday in Johns' honor, and flags would be flown at half staff -- as the White House condemned the latest act of domestic terrorism.

"This outrageous act reminds us that we must remain vigilant against anti-Semitism and prejudice in all its forms," President Barack Obama said. "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."

Two police sources said von Brunn, who has written a book and several Internet polemics detailing his rage against both Judaism and Christianity, has connections with white supremacist organizations and anti-government groups.

When von Brunn was captured he possessed a list he had made of lawmakers on Capitol Hill, according to another law enforcement officer who requested anonymity. The purpose of the list was not immediately clear, the official said.

Sources told NBC that the alleged gunman was born in 1920. His last known address was Annapolis, Md. Police are searching that home for clues about Wednesday's attack.

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." Writings attributed to von Brunn on the Internet say the Holocaust was a hoax.

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 difficulties.

Navy enlistment records, provided by the National Personnel Records Center, indicate a 21-year-old von Brunn signed up for military service on April 29, 1942, as an apprentice seaman. Almost a year later, von Brunn accepted an appointment in the Naval Reserves to become a midshipman. He listed his reason for signing up as "patriotic," documents show, after spending three years in college. Navy records show he had language qualifications in English and French.

The Holocaust 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. It is unknown if the shooting took place before or after the metal detectors, according to Park Police.

One witness said she heard three gunshots inside the museum. She said she heard one shot, then heard a security guard yell, "Run upstairs!" followed by at least two more shots.

The mother of a Massachusetts teenager said students on a school trip to the museum heard several gunshots before they were evacuated from the building. Sandy Perkins said her daughter, Abigail, called her shortly after the shooting. Abigail told her mother that some of her friends were very shaken, but all were otherwise fine.

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

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.

Former Senator and Secretary of Defense William Cohen was just inside the door of the Holocaust Museum when the shooting took place, NBC News reported. He was waiting for his wife, Janet Langhart Cohen, who has written and directed a one-act play that was to be performed at the Holocaust Museum Wednesday night. The performance is now being rescheduled for Thursday evening.




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