Holocaust museum reopens after shooting

June 12, 2009 1:02:15 PM PDT
Hundreds of visitors streamed into the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum as it opened Friday for the first time since a security guard was shot to death by a man authorities identified as a rifle-toting 88-year-old white supremacist. The museum, which was closed Thursday for a day of mourning, opened shortly after 10 a.m. Officials said the crowds seemed to be about the same size as usual this time of year.

Many visitors said they were determined not to let the shooting keep them away.

Liz Johnson, 35, led a group of 12 Girl Scouts dressed in lavender T-shirts. The members of the Dallas troop were among the first in line.

"To say that we can't do this because of this event is that man winning," Johnson said. "We're not going to let him win."

Few signs of the shooting remained outside the museum. The crime scene tape was gone, and the bullet-scarred front doors had been replaced.

About two dozen flower bouquets near the entrance formed a makeshift memorial to the slain guard, 39-year-old Stephen T. Johns. On top of one bouquet was a photo of Johns, who was black, with the inscription, "Truly a righteous Gentile."

Authorities have charged James von Brunn with murder in the Wednesday attack and are looking at possible hate crime charges. Von Brunn, who was shot in the face by other guards, remained in critical condition Friday.

Two security guards fired at von Brunn at least eight times as he walked in the doorway of the museum, according to court documents. No one else was injured.

The chairman of the D.C. police union said Friday that one of the guards who returned fire was Harry Weeks, who retired from the force in February after more than 27 years.

"I consider him a hero," Kristopher Baumann said. "He stepped up and put his life at risk in order to protect tourists and visitors."

Meanwhile, rabbis said they planned to talk with their congregations about the shooting at weekend services.

At Temple Beth Shalom in Arnold, Md., near von Brunn's Annapolis home, Rabbi Ari Goldstein said he wants to make it clear that anti-Semitism and racism are still issues.

"This is where this guy is from," said Goldstein, who plans to talk to congregants Friday. "Our town is not free of this type of hate."

Rabbi Linda Henry Goodman of the Union Temple of Brooklyn, N.Y., said she planned to take a few minutes during Friday's evening services "to remind all of us of our obligation to engage in 'Tikkun Olam' - that's Hebrew meaning to repair the world, which is really the sacred mission of Jews."

At the conservative B'Nai Torah Congregation in Boca Raton, Fla., Rabbi David Englander planned to address the shooting in his Saturday sermon. He believes it will especially resonate with the 1,300-family temple's numerous Holocaust survivors.

"This is an assault on what they went through," Englander said. "This isn't just some statistic or some random act of violence. It's representative of Holocaust denial everywhere."

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Associated Press Writers Brian Westley in Washington, Matt Sedensky in Miami, Verena Dobnik in New York City and Aaron L. Morrison in Baltimore contributed to this report.

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