An 88-year-old man walked into the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington on Wednesday and opened fire, hitting a security guard before being shot, police and emergency workers said. The guard later died.
A law enforcement official familiar with the ongoing investigation told NPR that James W. von Brunn was under investigation for shooting the security guard. Von Brunn is being investigated for possible ties to white supremacist views, the official said.
Washington, D.C., Police Chief Cathy Lanier told reporters the suspect "was engaged by at least two of the security guards immediately upon entering the door" of the museum early Wednesday afternoon. She said the man appeared to have acted alone.
The suspect shot one of the guards with a rifle before being shot, she said.
Both the gunman and the security guard were brought to George Washington University Medical Center for treatment. The gunman was in critical condition, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty said. The security guard, identified by the museum as Stephen Tyrone Johns, died within hours of the shooting.
Von Brunn has a racist, anti-Semitic Web site and wrote a book titled Kill the Best Gentile. 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.
A law enforcement official told The Associated Press that a vehicle belonging to von Brunn was found near the museum and was tested for explosives. The official was not authorized to discuss the investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity.
"The Federal Bureau of Investigation has sent members of its National Capital Response Squad, including agents and team members on SWAT, Evidence Recovery, and the Joint Terrorism Task Force, to provide on-scene support," said John Perren, the special agent in charge of the Washington Field Office's Counterterrorism Division. "The situation is fluid, and therefore no other statements will be made at this time."
President Obama called the shooting at the museum, which is a few blocks from the White House, an "outrageous act" and said it "reminds us that we must remain vigilant against anti-Semitism and prejudice in all its forms."
The episode unfolded inside the museum, which maintains a heavy security presence, with guards positioned inside and out. All visitors are required to pass through metal detectors at the entrance, and bags are screened.
The museum, across the street from the National Mall and within sight of the Washington Monument, was closed for the day after the shooting. Nearby streets were cordoned off by police.
In a statement, museum spokesman Andrew Hollinger said an assailant shot a museum security officer and "two museum security officers returned fire, hitting the assailant."
At the White House, press secretary Robert Gibbs said he informed President Obama of the events and said the chief executive was "obviously saddened by what has happened."
The museum houses exhibits and records relating to the Holocaust more than a half-century ago in which more than 6 million Jews were killed by the Nazis.
Mark Lippert of LaSalle, Ill., who was in the museum, said he heard several loud pops and saw several schoolchildren running toward him, three with horrified looks on their faces.
Linda Elston, who was visiting the museum from Nevada City, Calif., said she was on the lower level watching a film when she and others were told to leave the building.
"It was totally full of people," Elston said. "It took us a while to get out."
She said she didn't hear any shots and didn't immediately know why there was an evacuation. The experience left her feeling "a little anxious," she said.
From NPR and Associated Press reports