The hate crime designation means that Cross could face both federal and state charges in connection to the killings at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City and at the Village Shalom Retirement Center, both in Overland Park, Kan., a Kansas City suburb.
“The U.S. attorney’s office will file hate crime charges against the defendant,” said Barry Grissom, U.S. attorney for the District of Kansas. “We will be presenting it to the grand jury in the not too distant future.”
Police say Cross committed the crimes at the two locations, which are about a mile apart, within a half-hour period starting about 1 p.m. Central time Sunday. Cross was found armed with a shotgun, a handgun and other weapons in his vehicle by police patrols shortly thereafter.
Police identified the victims as Reat Griffin Underwood, 14, and Underwood’s grandfather, William Lewis Corporon, 69, both shot at the community center; and occupational therapist Terri LaManno, 53, who police say was visiting her mother at the retirement center.
Reat was a freshman at Blue Valley High School in Kansas and was with his grandfather at the Jewish Community Center to audition for the KC SuperStar singing competition.
The FBI’s designation comes as no real surprise given that Cross was a known former “grand dragon” of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and has a long relationship with hate groups.
Rabbi Herbert Mandl, chaplain for the Overland Park Police Department, told CNN that the shooter was shouting neo-Nazi slogans as he was taken away. Mandl also said he was asking people whether they were Jewish before he fired. And KCTV reported he was yelling “Heil Hitler” during the arrest.
None of the victims of the shooting were identified as Jewish, authorities said. At least two of the victims are believed to be Christian, according to the Associated Press.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracked Cross by his alias, Miller, said that the man founded and ran the Carolina KKK before he was sued by the SPLC “for operating an illegal paramilitary organization and using intimidation tactics against African Americans.”
He later founded another Klan outfit, the White Patriot Party, which put him in violation of the terms that settled the suit brought by the SPLC. He was found in criminal contempt in 1986 and served six months in prison. He moved underground while out on bond and was caught in Missouri with other Klansmen with a reserve of weapons, the SPLC stated.
A public records search shows Cross has used both names.
Cross ran for the U.S. Senate in 2010 and the House in 2006, inciting fear among voters when his ads urged whites to “take the country back” from Jews and “mud people,” according to news reports.
FBI officials said they were aware of Cross and his affiliations, but agents hadn’t been watching him recently.
The FBI defines a hate crime as “a traditional offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias.” According to federal hate-crime statutes, what matters is the bias of the person committing the crime, even if the victims do not belong to the group targeted — in this case believed to be Jews.
The FBI recorded no anti-semetic homicides in its hate crime statistics in 2012. And the incident comes at a time when the Anti-Defamation League marked a 14 percent decline in anti-Semitic incidents in 2012.
Lindsey Bever contributed to this report.