Mourners of Many Faiths Gather to Remember Victim
Thursday, June 11, 2009; 7:25 PM
About 200 mourners gathered at an entrance of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum this afternoon for a vigil quickly assembled by the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington to remember Stephen T. Johns, the security guard who was fatally shot yesterday, and to condemn the actions of the gunman who took his life.
James W. von Brunn, 88, an avowed white supremacist has been arrested and charged with murdering Johns.
Several faiths were represented to emphasize that hatred against one group is hatred against all, said Rev. Clark Lobenstine, executive director of the conference.
From Hindu to Hebrew, the prayers came in all forms.
"We will stand together and not be pulled apart by the actions of hate and violence like this one," he said just before religious leaders behind him began singing, "We Shall Overcome."
Organizers also announced a fund established for Johns's survivors through the American Jewish Committee. Those wishing to donate should call the committee at (202) 785-5475. "This spontaneous outpouring means a lot to us, means a lot to the family," Bill Parsons, the museum director, told the crowd of people. Some mourners protected the flames of their candles from the wind with their hands. Some held each other's hands.
Most mourners had to pass the entrance on 14th Street NW, where Johns was gunned down. Museum guards removed the yellow police tape from the crime scene just before 2 p.m. when the vigil began. Tourists and members of the news media took photos of the glass doors riddled with five bullet holes -- four in the right door, one in the left.
"The holes in the window. That's what brought it home to me. They were really gut-wrenching," said Eileen Frazier, chief operating officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. "In some ways, I think they should leave the windows like that, at least for a little while. It reminds people why the building is here."
Frazier, 41, said she attended the vigil as a representative of the federation, but "I would have been here anyway in a personal capacity."
Her late maternal grandparents were holocaust survivors.
Representatives of the German and Israeli embassies joined religious leaders in addressing the crowd. "What we saw here yesterday was an incarnation of the fact that . . . holocaust denial ultimately leads to insane violence," said Martin Peled-Flax, minister-counselor at the Israeli embassy.
Lobenstine said in an interview said it was important to have a diverse gathering. "To say this only affects Jewish people . . . it's hogwash. It affects all of us," he said.
Asma Hanif drove from Baltimore to attend the vigil, her bright purple hijab and dress standing out in the crowd in which several men wore yarmulkes. "When we think about someone being Muslim or Christian or Jewish, wrong is wrong," said Hanif, executive director and founder of Muslimat Al-Nisaa, a shelter for Muslim women.
"Someone who will demonstrate hate like this will do it in any community," she said. "Whether it was the Holocaust or slavery, the only reason it prevailed is because it was tolerated. We have the right and the authority to end it."
As the crowd trickled away shortly before 3 p.m., mourners again walked past the entrance where Johns and von Brunn were shot. The glass doors, the reminders, had been taken down in preparation for replacement.