An elderly gunman opened fire with a rifle inside the crowded U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on Wednesday, killing a security guard before being shot. Authorities said they were investigating a white supremacist as the suspect. The assailant was hospitalized in critical condition, Washington, D.C., Mayor Adrian Fenty said.
D.C. 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.”
One law enforcement official said James Von Brunn, 89, a white supremacist, was under investigation in the shooting, and a second official said the elderly man’s car was found near the museum and tested for explosives. They spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to discuss the investigation just beginning.
Von Brunn has a racist, anti-Semitic Web site and wrote a book titled “Kill the Best Gentiles.”
In 1983, he 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.
Writings attributed to Von Brunn on the Internet say the Holocaust was a hoax and decry a Jewish conspiracy to “destroy the white gene pool.”
“At Auschwitz the ‘Holocaust’ myth became Reality, and Germany, cultural gem of the West, became a pariah among world nations,” the writing said. The museum houses exhibits and records relating to the Holocaust more than a half century ago in which more than six million Jews were killed by the Nazis.
Museum officials identified the guard who was killed as Stephen T. Johns. In an e-mail, director Sara Bloomfield said he “died heroically in the line of duty.”
The museum where he worked is located across the street from the National Mall, and within sight of the Washington Monument. The museum, which draws about 1.7 million visitors each year, was closed for the day after the shooting, and nearby streets were cordoned off by police. Surrounding roads were closed at least temporarily and blocked off with yellow tape. Police cars and officers on horseback surrounded the area.
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