US museum shooter could face death penalty
The self-avowed white supremacist will be charged with murder and killing in the course of possession of a firearm in a federal facility.Washington -- An elderly self-avowed white supremacist who strode into the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and gunned down a security guard could be sentenced to death, officials said here Thursday.
James von Brunn, 88, who was stopped when security guards shot him the face, will be charged with murder and killing in the course of possession of a firearm in a federal facility, officials said.
Shortly before 1:00 pm on Wednesday, von Brunn strode up to the doors of the museum, raised a .22 calibre rifle and fatally shot African-American museum guard Stephen Tyrone Johns, 39, in the chest, an affidavit filed in court Thursday by the FBI said.
If convicted, von Brunn faces life in prison without parole and could face the death penalty, acting US attorney Channing Phillips told reporters.
A search of the car the shooter left double-parked in the street outside turned up a notebook of handwritten anti-Semitic rants denouncing President Barack Obama as a Jewish puppet.
"The Holocaust is a lie. Obama was created by Jews. Obama does what his Jew owners tell him to do," said one of the notes, which was signed James W. Von Brunn, the affidavit said.
Obama -- who last week became the first US president to visit the Nazi death camp in Buchenwald, Germany -- said he was "shocked and saddened" by the shooting.
He said it "reminds us that we must remain vigilant against anti-Semitism and prejudice in all its forms."
Federal investigators are working with the US attorney's office and the Department of Justice to see if civil rights and hate crime charges can also be brought against von Brunn, the FBI's Joseph Persichini said.
The suspect was known to the FBI as "as an anti-Semite and a white supremacist who had established websites that inspired hatred against African-Americans, Jews and others," Persichini added.
The FBI, which is trying to piece together how von Brunn spent the hours leading up to the attack, has reviewed videotape of the shooting captured on the museum's surveillance system.
Police recovered several cartridge casings and a .22 calibre rifle loaded with 10 live rounds of ammunition at the museum.
And a search of an apartment in coastal Annapolis, Maryland where Von Brunn rented a room, agents recovered .22 calibre ammunition and a 30/30 rifle, as well as ledgers, journals and manuscripts, the affidavit said.
But Persechini denied reports that agents had found a list of Washington targets in the car.
"The vehicle contained numerous documents, pieces of paper, but not a list," he said.
"The documents contained names and addresses ... they have been contacted and we have exhausted all possible leads as related to any possible threat," said Persichini.
Mayor Adrian Fenty praised the heroism of "not only of our fallen officer Johns, but all of the officers ... whose efforts yesterday to bring this gunman down so quickly, literally saved the lives of people.
"There were thousands of people inside the Holocaust museum and one life lost is a tragedy, but this could have been much, much worse," Fenty said.
The head of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Francis George, called the shooting "a violation of a hallowed space in our nation’s capital," where the memory of the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust is preserved.
"This tragic incident only serves to reinforce the need for continued education throughout society against bias of every kind, but most especially racial and religious prejudice," George said.
The Harris family from Florida, who had been in the museum cafeteria when the attack occurred, returned Thursday to try to resume their visit, but found the museum closed, its flags flying at half-mast.
Kelsey Harris, 12, told AFP how confusion and disbelief turned to horror as she, her brother Carson, 7, and father Ken realized they were caught up in an attack.
"We heard shots. Then the police came, really quickly, and they shouted 'Everyone get up, let's go'," said Kelsey, still shaken by the memory.
"We're not Jewish but we wanted to come here because we're interested in their story," said Ken Harris.
Since it opened in 1993, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum has welcomed nearly 30 million visitors, including 85 heads of state. Ninety percent of visitors to the museum are not Jewish, the museum says on its website.