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Suspect's Son Sorry It Was Guard At Museum, Not Dad, Who Died

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 14, 2009

The son of James W. von Brunn says that he wishes it had been his father, not U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum guard Stephen T. Johns, who died in Wednesday's shooting and that von Brunn's hatred of Jews was a plague that ruined his family's life.

"I cannot express enough how deeply sorry I am it was Mr. Johns, and not my father who lost their life yesterday [Wednesday]," Erik von Brunn, 32, says in a written statement to ABC News. "It was unjustified and unfair that he died, and while my condolences could never begin to offer appeasement, they, along with my remorse is all I have to give."

James von Brunn, a white supremacist, has been charged with killing Johns and remains hospitalized with gunshot wounds to the face from two other museum guards who returned fire after Johns fell.

In his statement to ABC and a phone interview with The Washington Post yesterday, von Brunn said his father's bigotry was a shadow over his life. He said in the interview that he was too young to know his father when James von Brunn went to prison for 6 1/2 years for attempting to kidnap members of the Federal Reserve Board at its District headquarters in December 1981. Erik von Brunn, now 32, was nearly 11 when his father was released.

"Even from that moment, he still had those beliefs," said von Brunn, reached by phone at his mother's home in Homosassa, Fla., about an hour north of Tampa. "It was always a part of our life." Erik von Brunn is an aspiring teacher and science fiction writer who recently graduated from the University of Maryland.

He said he had a decent relationship with his father, "in comparison with other families that I know." Although the elder von Brunn never insisted that his son share his views, Erik von Brunn said, his father was disappointed when he did not.

Erik von Brunn declined to say when he last spoke with his father or whether they were estranged. Still, he said, he never imagined that his father's rage would consume him to the point that he might take another life.

"I never had any inclination to think that. The man is 88 years old. I never would have thought he could do this," he said. "It really hasn't sunk in yet. It's a shock."

In the statement, von Brunn directly addresses white supremacists. "For the extremists who believe my father is a hero: it is imperative you understand what he did was an act of cowardice," he writes. "His actions have undermined your 'movement,' and strengthened the resistance against your cause. He should not be remembered as a brave man or a hero, but a coward unable to come to grips with the fact he threw his and his families lives away for an ideology that fostered sadness and anguish."

Larger-than-usual crowds have been visiting the museum since the incident, officials said. A little more than 8,573 people visited Friday, surpassing the June daily average of 7,320.

Yesterday also was busy, with lines out the door and thousands coming to visit. Sara Bloomfield, the museum's director, said one tour guide hugged her and told her, "Our hearts go out to you."

"People are not going to be deterred," Bloomfield said. "Some came out of defiance. Some came in tribute to Officer Johns. Some came for an important educational experience. The public is really coming back in full force."

Three memorial funds have been set up for the Johns family -- by the museum, his security company, Wackenhut, and the American Jewish Committee.

Staff writer Christian Davenport contributed to this report.

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