RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY
June 11, 2009
WASHINGTON (RFE/RL) -- An elderly man walked into the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. and opened fire on security guards, fatally wounding one before two guards returned fire.
Both the assailant and his victim, who was identified as 39-year-old Stephen Johns, were taken to the hospital in serious condition. The wounded guard died a few hours after the attack, according to law enforcement officials.
The U.S. Park Police said the gunman walked into the museum on June 10 carrying a "long gun," and fired on a guard, before being shot by other guards. A law enforcement source said the gunman was shot in the face.
The U.S. Holocaust Museum is near the National Mall in Washington and is one of the capital's most popular tourist attractions. At the time of the shooting, the museum was full, with about 2,000 visitors inside, according to the museum's director, William Parsons.
Law enforcement authorities have declined to identify the gunman, but several media outlets, including the Associated Press, have identified him as 88-year-old James von Brunn.
Von Brunn has a racist, anti-Semitic website called holywesternempire.org and wrote a book called "Kill the Best Gentile."
Local media quoted police as saying that they also found a notebook in von Brunn's possession that lists other possible targets.
Joseph Persichini, assistant director in charge of the Washington FBI field office, said a team had been dispatched to the suspect's home to check his computer. He said they are investigating this as a possible hate crime or domestic terrorism.
In 1983, Von Brunn 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.
A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, Jonathan Peled, said: "We are shocked and saddened by today's shooting incident at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The Embassy of Israel condemns this attack and is closely following the situation."
At the White House, spokesman Robert Gibbs said President Barack Obama was "saddened" by reports of the shooting. The Department of Homeland Security and FBI is providing the president with updates on the situation, Gibbs said.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, anti-Semitic acts have been declining in the United States. In 2008, there were 1,352 incidents of vandalism, harassment, and physical assault against Jewish individuals, property, and community institutions. That number represents a decline of 7 percent from 2007.
The U.S. Holocaust Museum has heavy security and all visitors have to pass through metal detectors and have their bags screened.
The museum receives approximately 1.7 million visitors annually. Staff said the museum will be closed on June 11 and its flags will fly at half-staff.
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