Guards Harry Weeks, Jason McCuiston React to Shooting Holocaust Museum Assailant

There was a heavy security presence as the Holocaust Memorial Museum reopened after guard Stephen Johns was shot and killed on Wednesday.
By Aaron C. Davis and Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, June 13, 2009

One man had never fired a gun in the line of duty, and for the other it had been more than 25 years. But when the moment came Wednesday in the entryway to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, neither hesitated: Harry Weeks and Jason McCuiston drew their side arms and dropped James W. von Brunn in a hail of gunfire, authorities say.

"The man never made it in the building," said McCuiston, 30, a former Marine and police officer, who said he was slowly coming to terms with the loss of Stephen T. Johns, the "kind giant" of a man whom von Brunn is alleged to have fatally shot in the chest. McCuiston and Weeks, 50, said they had befriended Johns immediately when they began working together this spring.

His death made it hard for the men to accept congratulations for probably saving lives.

"Everybody has told me -- my friends, family and everybody -- it's what I was there to do, it's why I am here," McCuiston said. "I just got to keep putting one foot in front of the other."

"We did what we were supposed to, I guess, " Weeks said.

McCuiston said they don't know which of the eight rounds law enforcement sources have said the two men got off struck von Brunn in the head: "Neither one of us knows, and neither one of us wants to know."

Weeks, a 27-year veteran of the D.C. police, and McCuiston spoke to a reporter yesterday before carpooling to Washington from their Charles County homes to discuss the shooting with supervisors and to briefly visit co-workers. "It's so hard to believe that he is gone," Weeks said of Johns before the two left for the hour-long drive.

The men met in a private room at the museum yesterday as crowds filled the Holocaust exhibitions for the first time since Wednesday's rampage. Some said they came to make a statement that von Brunn, an avowed white supremacist, who for years had written and published hate-filled screeds against Jews and blacks, wouldn't tarnish one of Washington's monuments to peace. Von Brunn remains in critical condition. He has been charged with murder and could face the death penalty.

Weeks and McCuiston said they expect to be told Monday whether they can share a full account of the shooting. Both were instructed not to discuss details of the gun battle until then. But they said it was happenstance that they were in the museum lobby at the same time.

The two had only begun working at the museum in the past two months. After retiring in February, Weeks, who had worked patrol and vice and, for the past seven years, as an evidence technician, said he had begun to get stir-crazy in retirement in his Charles County home. "I can't play golf," he said, "so I had to get out and do something." McCuiston started at the museum about six weeks ago, after returning home from Georgia, where he had been a police officer outside Atlanta.

Both said they were happy working a few days a week as "special police," or armed guards, for Wackenhut Services, which employs many former law enforcement officers in the District. Neither was scheduled to work Wednesday. They accepted overtime assignments to help with the crowds and VIPs expected for the opening that evening of a play about racial tolerance, written by the wife of former defense secretary William Cohen.

Until a short time before the shooting, neither man was stationed near the entrance von Brunn allegedly entered. Weeks had been working another post in the museum, he said, until a supervisor asked him to come help man the metal detector. McCuiston was roaming the museum, giving guards breaks, until he stopped by the entrance to relieve a co-worker.

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