Three people were killed Sunday when a gunman opened fire outside the Overland Park Jewish Community Center in suburban Kansas City, Kansas and at the nearby assisted living residence Village Shalom, authorities said.
One of the victims was reportedly a 14-year-old boy. A spokeswoman for a local hospital had initially said the boy was in critical condition.
The attack began at about 1:00 p.m., local time, when the gunman shot the first two victims in a parking lot near the JCC’s theater, Overland Park Police Chief John Douglass said. One male died at the scene, another male died at a hospital. The gunman then fled and opened fire at nearby Village Shalom, killing a woman in her 70s about 15 minutes after the first shooting.
Two other people were shot at, but the gunfire missed them, Douglass said.
Rabbi Herbert Mandl, who serves as chaplain for the Overland Park Police Department, told CNN the suspect asked people whether they were Jewish before opening fire, and local journalist Melissa Stern reported the same claim to FOX News, though it could not be independently confirmed.
Watch the suspect in the Overland Park shooting being taken into custody.
About 75 people were inside the JCC’s theater, most of them children, during the shooting, though the center stressed the incident took place inside the parking lot, according to KCTV television.
Police took one person into custody at the Valley Park Elementary School, several blocks from Village Shalom.
Local news outlets reported that the man was heard yelling “Heil Hitler” as police took him into custody.
Overland Park shooting suspect appears to yell “Heil Hitler” upon his arrest
Police said the suspected gunman was in his 70s, but did not release his name. They said it could be assumed, given the Jewish facilities that were targeted, that it was a hate crime, but that it was “too early” to formally make that label.
“We know it was a vicious act of violence, and we know obviously it was at two Jewish facilities. One might make that assumption,” Douglass said at a press briefing.
Overland Park Mayor Carl Gerlach said law enforcement officials were “doing everything they can to solve this” and added that the shooting appeared to be an isolated incident. “It is believed that there is no additional reason for concern at this time.”
The gunman was not from Kansas, and was not known to local police.
Douglas said the suspect used a shotgun in the assault and investigators were trying to determine whether a handgun and assault rifle were involved.
The Jewish Community Center was put in lockdown after the shooting.
Douglass said his department had asked the FBI to be involved in the investigation, and a special agent had already been assigned.
“The community center has really worked hard to maintain a safe environment and we have worked with them,” Douglass said. “This is a very sad and tragic day and there are no other words to express the senseless things that happened this afternoon,”
As the incident began, a group of kids was filing into the JCC ahead of an audition for the high school singing competition KC Superstar. They were told to find shelter in the locker rooms.
“I thought he was shooting an air rifle and all of a sudden he shot at me,” Mark Brodky, a member at the JCC, told Action News. He said the man shot out the windows of his car.
St. Louis resident Kristy Straeb, 47, said her sister-in-law Stacie Ventimiglia was at the center’s pool with a friend and four little girls under the age of 7 for a swimming lesson, which ended about 12:45 p.m. Straeb said they decided at the last minute to get the girls showered.
“They had just gotten the four babies naked, and somebody yelled into the family locker room, ‘We have an active shooter situation. You need to get safe,'” Straeb said.
The women got into a cubby area and were “ready to push the little girls into four empty lockers,” Straeb said. She noted that the women and their children were not harmed and left the center about 2:45 p.m. Sunday.
There was a heavy police presence at the campus, which spans several acres in an affluent area of Johnson County, Kansas. Police had also taped off the entrance to Village Shalom on Sunday afternoon, and several patrol cars and a crime scene unit van were parked in front.
— 41 Action News (@41actionnews) April 13, 2014
Yahav Barnea, who works at the JCC, told Israel’s Channel 2 News that there were several events taking place at the center as well as the singing contest, including Jewish youth movement events, and that the JCC’s fitness center was also open.
She said local community leaders had received routine security warnings ahead of Passover, “but nothing specific for this area.”
“Our hearts go out to the families who have suffered loss on this tragic day,” the JCC said in a statement. “Our heartfelt gratitude as well to all those in Kansas City and around the world who have expressed sympathy, concern and support.”
The center would remain closed through Monday, the JCC said.