Eastern Shore Acquaintances Say Museum Shooting Suspect Spouted Hatred

A gunman walks into the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in downtown Washington and opens fire, killing a guard, according to authorities.
By Ashley Halsey III and Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, June 12, 2009

The anger of James Wenneker von Brunn was too big for the quiet civility of the small town on Maryland's Eastern Shore where he made his home for much of the past three decades.

The venom that seethed within him spilled over time and again, shocking the people of Easton who bore witness. They were shocked once more at news of Wednesday's fatal shooting at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, but not at word that the alleged gunman was the 88-year-old white supremacist who once lived in their midst.

"Was he capable of this? Yes," said Laura Era, who saw him explode with anger twice in her Harrison Street art gallery. "Our intuition that he was creepy, that he might go postal, all came back to us when we heard the news."

As more details emerged yesterday about von Brunn, an avowed racist and anti-Semite who was shot and critically wounded by museum guards, the U.S. attorney's office in the District charged him with murder and another offense under a federal statute that makes him eligible for the death penalty if prosecutors decide to seek it.

In an incident that was captured by the museum's security cameras, he allegedly entered the building with a .22-caliber rifle and shot 39-year-old security guard Stephen T. Johns in the chest.

FBI agent Ronald Farnsworth said in a court affidavit that von Brunn, driving a red 2002 Hyundai, double parked outside the museum entrance on 14th Street SW near the Mall at 12:44 p.m., got out of the car and walked toward the building, carrying the rifle at his side. Johns, a guard at the museum for six years, "was kind enough to open the door" for a person whom he apparently thought was a harmless elderly visitor, D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said at a news briefing yesterday.

Authorities who viewed the video did not say whether von Brunn was holding the rifle at his side in a way that concealed it from Johns.

Von Brunn "raised his rifle, aimed it at [Johns] and fired one time," hitting the guard in the upper left side of his chest, Farnsworth wrote, adding, "The defendant continued through the door and raised his firearm as if to fire again." But two other guards fired first, and von Brunn, who was shot in the face, "fell backward outside the door." He remained in critical condition yesterday at George Washington University Hospital.

Investigators found three spent .22-caliber shell casings from von Brunn's rifle and 10 live rounds still in the weapon. The two guards apparently fired eight rounds from their .38-caliber revolvers. According to a federal law enforcement source, the rifle is a Winchester model that is at least 70 years old.

Searching the Hyundai, Farnsworth said in the affidavit, investigators found a notebook in which von Brunn had scribbled some of his thoughts.

"You want my weapons -- this is how you'll get them," von Brunn had written. "The Holocaust is a lie. . . . Obama does what his Jew owners tell him to do. . . . The 1st Amendment is abrogated -- henceforth."

To people who knew him on the Eastern Shore, the rants are familiar.

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