The security guard shot to death at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum had opened the door for the gunman, who then raised a rifle and killed him, authorities said Thursday.
The suspect in Wednesday’s slaying — 88-year-old James von Brunn — will be charged with murder and, if convicted, could face the death penalty, a federal prosecutor confirmed. Von Brunn is a white supremacist known for racist and anti-Semitic writings. He will also will face charges of possession of a firearm at a federal facility, said Chief Cathy Lanier of the District of Columbia’s Metropolitan Police Department. Von Brunn remained hospitalized in critical condition Thursday from shots fired by other security guards, authorities said. Officer Stephen Tyrone Johns, the slain guard, was trying to help what he thought was an elderly museum visitor, Chief Lanier said. Johns, 39, “was kind enough to open the door, allowing him to enter,” she said. “As he entered, he raised the rifle and shot special police officer Johns.” Witnesses: ‘Panic’ inside museum » Acting U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips said the federal murder charge can bring the death penalty. The Holocaust museum — which is near the Washington Monument and other popular tourist attractions — remained closed Thursday, its flags lowered to half-staff in tribute to Johns. A six-year veteran of the museum’s security staff, Johns was hailed as a hero by D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty and other officials. Johns was a resident of Temple Hills, Maryland, according to a statement issued by Wackenhut Services Inc., which has provided security services at the museum since 2002. A six-year veteran of the museum’s security staff, Johns “died heroically in the line of duty,” said Sara Bloomfield, director of the museum. “Obviously there are no words to express our grief and shock over the horrific event that took place at this museum today,” Bloomfield said. See where the museum is located » Von Brunn is a Holocaust denier, well-known to human rights groups for decades, who created an anti-Semitic Web site called “The Holy Western Empire.” The Southern Poverty Law Center, which focuses on human rights, said von Brunn has “an extremely long history with neo-Nazis and white supremacists.” He has repeatedly claimed “The Diary of Anne Frank,” an iconic diary written by a teenage girl who was hiding from Nazis with her family, was a hoax. The guard died on the day the museum was to stage a play based on Anne Frank and two days before what would have been her 80th birthday. Investigators found a notebook in the suspect’s car listing other locations in Washington that he might have considered as targets, a federal official told CNN. Von Brunn served six years in prison for trying in 1981 to kidnap Federal Reserve Board members because of high interest rates. He blamed his prison term on a “Negro jury, Jew/Negro attorneys” and “a Jew judge,” he said on his Web site, “Holy Western Empire.” One of many questions is whether von Brunn, as a convicted felon, should have turned in his weapons or been barred from owning them. Both Johns and von Brunn were taken to George Washington University Hospital, said D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty. Johns died at the hospital. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, said von Brunn has “an extremely long history with neo-Nazis and white supremacists.” Discussion: Is the U.S. too tolerant of hatemongers » Witnesses to the shooting described blood on the floor and chaos within the museum’s halls. Visitor Maria Hernandez told CNN she heard five shots and saw the wounded security guard. “It was definitely a security guard; he was down bleeding on the floor,” said Hernandez, 19. “He was face down. His back … blood was coming out.” Watch Hernandez describe what she saw » Sirens blared as emergency vehicles converged on the area, which is near the Washington Monument and other popular tourist attractions. The museum was full at the time, with a “couple of thousand” people inside, said William Parsons, chief of staff at the museum. “Never take your guard force and security people for granted,” he said. “They did exactly what they were supposed to do to protect people in the museum.” Watch another museum visitor tell what he saw » Dave Pearson, a sixth-grade teacher in the Washington area, said he was on the museum’s fourth floor when he heard a loud noise. “At the time, we’re visiting and all of a sudden there’s like a boom, and all of a sudden they told us to stop where we’re at,” he told CNN. “Only thing we heard was a boom, and that was it.” See more photos from the scene » The shooting sent shock waves throughout the nation’s capital and elsewhere.
Obama urges vigilance against prejudice in shooting’s wake
Shooting suspect has ‘long history’ with neo-Nazis
Criminal complaint: U.S. v. von Brunn
Video coverage of the shooting
“I am shocked and saddened by today’s shooting at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum,” said President Obama, who just days earlier had spoken emotionally about the Holocaust when he visited Buchenwald, a former Nazi concentration camp with Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel. “This outrageous act reminds us that we must remain vigilant against anti-Semitism and prejudice in all its forms,” Obama said Wednesday. Law enforcement analyst talks about how this could have happened » Israel issued a statement through its embassy, expressing sadness and condemning the attack. The Anti-Defamation League said the shooting “reminds us in the starkest way where the spread of hatred can lead.” 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.” Watch a discussion of what fuels hate crimes » The museum canceled a performance scheduled for Wednesday night of a play about racism and anti-Semitism, based on a fictional meeting between Anne Frank and Emmett Till, the teenage victim of a racist killing in the United States. Attorney General Eric Holder and Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tennessee, were among those planning to attend the play, which was written by Janet Langhart Cohen, the wife of former Defense Secretary and U.S. Sen. William Cohen. Watch the Cohens describe what happened » Langhart Cohen told CNN that Anne Frank’s young life was ended by people filled with hate. She said it was hard to see that same hate manifest itself at this place of remembrance.