Slain Holocaust Museum Security Guard Remembered as Kind, Caring

In the living room of their Temple Hills home, the parents and son of the slain Holocaust Museum security guard Stephen Johns talk about their loss. Video by Hamil Harris/The Washington Post
By Michael Birnbaum and Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, June 12, 2009

Stephen Tyrone Johns opened the door for the man who authorities say killed him.

On Wednesday afternoon, Johns was at his post in the lobby of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum when he saw an elderly man walking toward the glass entrance and cracked open the door. If he saw a .22-caliber rifle at the old man's side, he saw it too late.

Johns, 39, was pronounced dead hours after James W. von Brunn, 88, an avowed white supremacist, allegedly shot him in the chest. Von Brunn, shot by other security guards, lay in the same hospital in critical condition.

Opening the museum door was a final gesture of goodwill for a man who had long opened his own door for friends, family and anyone in need. He was a "care bear" who despite the imposing mass that made him well suited for security -- 6 feet 6 inches and more than 300 pounds -- "wouldn't harm anybody," said Brian Lennon, a longtime friend and onetime roommate.

Lennon, Johns and a third friend, Anthony Harmon, shared an Oxon Hill apartment for five years, beginning in 2002, and they had known one another since meeting at a job training program in 1990. They were like brothers, keeping tabs on one another's families. Harmon, 36, said they fit together like "puzzle pieces." But in the past couple of years, their lives took different directions -- Lennon got married and so did Johns, for the second time -- and they saw less of one another.

In the past month, however, Johns and Lennon had gone fishing together several times, and it was the beginning of a new friendship, Lennon said, as married men, rather than as the "girl-crazy" guys they once were.

Just last week, Harmon said, he joined his old buddies for night fishing, the first time the old roommates had been all together in a long time. Johns didn't catch a thing, but Harmon and Lennon gave him their fish so that he would have something to give his wife, who was waiting up for him when they returned in the wee hours.

"He was talking, and we was chilling together," Harmon said. "It was just so exciting that we were around each other." They made plans to do it again on Father's Day.

Harmon said that Johns was a passionate sports fan -- "a good D.C. person," deeply committed to the Redskins and the Wizards -- and that he also loved to travel. Every year about tax time, he and a group of friends would take a week off and visit Miami, Las Vegas, Myrtle Beach, S.C., Atlantic City or New York City, seeing sights, hitting bars and enjoying life.

Johns's favorite movies were comedies, and Johns was a funny man, keeping friends and family in stitches.

"He liked to make people laugh, and he liked people to make him laugh," Harmon said.

Johns was a 1988 graduate of Crossland High School in Temple Hills.

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