A gunman, said by authorities to have a violent and virulently anti-Semitic past, stepped inside a crowded U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on Wednesday, opened fire with a rifle and fatally wounded a security guard before being shot by other officers.
The assailant was hospitalized in critical condition, leaving behind a sprawling investigation by federal and local law enforcement and expressions of shock from the Israeli government and a prominent Muslim organization.
D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said the gunman was "engaged by security guards immediately after entering the door" with a rifle.
"The second he stepped into the building he began firing."
Law enforcement officials said James Von Brunn, 88, a white supremacist, was under investigation in the shooting, and a second official said the elderly man's car was found near the museum and tested for explosives.
They spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to discuss the investigation just beginning.
Museum officials identified the dead guard as Stephen T. Johns, a six-year veteran of the facility. In an e-mail, director Sara Bloomfield said he "died heroically in the line of duty."
Von Brunn, 88, has a racist, anti-Semitic Web site called holywesternempire.org and wrote a book titled "Kill the Best Gentiles."
In 1983, he was convicted of attempting to kidnap members of the Federal Reserve Board and served more than six years in prison. He was arrested two years earlier outside the room where the board was meeting, carrying a revolver, knife and sawed-off shotgun.
At the time, police said Von Brunn wanted to take the members hostage because of high interest rates and the nation's economic difficulties.
Writings attributed to Von Brunn on the Internet say the Holocaust was a hoax and decry a Jewish conspiracy to "destroy the white gene pool."
"At Auschwitz the 'Holocaust' myth became Reality, and Germany, cultural gem of the West, became a pariah among world nations," it says.
The museum, which opened in 1993 and has drawn nearly 30 million visitors, houses exhibits and records relating to the Holocaust of more than a half century ago in which more than six million Jews died at the hands of Nazis.
Its Web site says the museum "teaches millions of people each year about the dangers of unchecked hatred and the need to prevent genocide."
A museum official said a couple of thousand people were inside the facility when the shooting broke out, including many school-age children on field trips.
A group of about 40 students and chaperones from Robbinsdale Middle School were at the museum at the time of the shooting, according to the Robbinsdale school district.
The students were on another floor of the museum, and they were all evacuated safely. The museum is located across the street from the National Mall, and within sight of the Washington Monument.
The museum, which draws about 1.7 million visitors each year, was closed for the day after the shooting, and nearby streets were cordoned off by police.
Surrounding roads were closed at least temporarily and blocked off with yellow tape. Police cars and officers on horses surrounded the area.
At the White House, just a few blocks away, press secretary Robert Gibbs said he informed President Barack Obama of the events and the chief executive was "obviously saddened by what has happened."
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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