June 10, 2009
Eyewitness Account of Shooting
Stephen Tyrone Johns, the security guard shot at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Wednesday afternoon has died. The museum will close on Thursday in honor of Johns, an African-American who has worked at the museum for six years.
White Supremacist James Von Brunn, 88, the alleged gunman is said to have used a rifle in the incident. He was seriously wounded when two other guards opened fire on him after he allegedly began shooting outside the museum.
David Unruh of Wichita, Kan. was at the museum when the shooting occurred. Unruh had taken his two grandsons, ages 15 and 17, to Washington to see the nation’s capital.
“I think the Holocaust is a significant piece of history that my grandsons needed to see,” said Unruh, reached by jewishjournal.com late on the afternoon of the shooting while he was on the Washington Metro. “We’re from Wichita, so everything here is new and important, and I think the Holocaust Museum in an important museum to see and understand.”
Unruh and his family had already passed through security and entered the museum’s foyer, where the “Daniel’s Story” exhibit is on display, when they heard a shot, followed by four or five other shots.
“Immediately someone started yelling to get down, and we got into a little hallway nook with another family, and we just waited. It was very, very frightening,” Unruh said. “A little bit later, they said to get up and run, so we got up and ran in the direction everyone was running, which was away from the incident and out the back door.”
Unruh said he’s been discussing the incident with the boys throughout the day. “We’re still pretty shaken and pretty upset,” he said. “We talked about how this is a strange situation, that we don’t need to expect things like this, but there are crazy people all around and that this is what crazy people do.”
They later heard that the shooter, James W. Von Brunn, is a White Supremacist and a Holocaust denier, a situation Unruh says they will continue to discuss. “This is not rational, and there is no intellectual justification for someone to hate one group of people. It’s just bizarre and irrational, and people who let that sort of attitude develop can end up taking extreme action,” Unruh said.
The Holocaust Museum closed for the day after the incident, and the Unruhs are leaving Washington tomorrow, so they won’t get to visit the full museum. But they did see “Daniel’s Story,” part of the museum’s permanent exhibition, which tells of one family devastated by the Holocaust in a way children can understand. Daniel is six when his family is first affected in 1933 in Frankfurt Germany, and the story takes them through the Lodz Ghetto and the Auschwitz Concentration camp. The exhibit, based on the novel by Carol Matas, is the museum’s main tool for teaching the Holocaust to the millions of elementary and middle school students who visit the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. In fact, several classes were in the museum when the shooting occurred.
Unruh said he is glad his grandsons got to see that exhibit.
“It was very poignant and very educational for them,” he said. “I’m glad they got to see that much, but I’m sorry they didn’t see the whole museum.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a Montgomery, Ala.-based group that tracks hate groups, identified von Brunn as a longtime white supremacist based on Maryland’s eastern shore.
On his Web site, HolyWesternEmpire.org, von Brunn claims that in 1981 he attempted to arrest the leadership of the Federal Reserve. He says he was arrested after surrendering to a guard who called von Brunn’s bluff on his threats to open fire. According to von Brunn, he was sentenced to 11 years in prison.
Local reaction: LAPD increases security at Weisenthal Center.