US President Barack Obama on Sunday night called the day’s shooting attack at two Jewish centers in Kansas in which three people were killed “horrific” and “heartbreaking,” as townspeople held a vigil in honor of the victims.
Two of the victims were a teenage boy and his grandfather: 14-year-old Reat Griffin Underwood and Dr. William Lewis Corporon were said to be members of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, a suburb of Kansas City.
Though the family is Christian, local NBC affiliate KSHB TV reported that the two had come to the Overland Park Jewish Community Center as Reat wanted to try out for the local high school singing competition “KC Superstar,” auditions for which were being held at the JCC.
A third woman in her 70s was killed in the nearby assisted living residence Village Shalom. Her name has not yet been released.
Dr. William Lewis Corporon and Reat Griffin Underwood (Losen) — 2 of the victims of today's shootings. pic.twitter.com/behALAobYh
— 41 Action News (@41actionnews) April 14, 2014
Kansas authorities identified the suspect in police custody as 73-year-old Frasier Glenn Cross Jr. (also known as Frazier Glenn Miller) of Aurora, Missouri. According to USA Today, police booked Cross into the Johnson County, Kansas, jail Sunday evening, and charged him with premeditated murder.
NBC News reported that Cross was a former Ku Klux Klan leader with a history of anti-Semitic and anti-African American activities. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights group, Cross also went by the name of Glenn Miller and had served three years in a federal prison on weapons charges. He was a member of a neo-Nazi group in the 1970s and founded a paramilitary KKK group in the 1980s, and allegedly sought to establish “a White Southland.”
According to the SPLC website, in a 2010 radio campaign Cross said “We’ve sat back and allowed the Jews to take over our government, our banks, and our media. We’ve allowed tens of millions of mud people to invade our country, steal our jobs and our women, and destroy our children’s futures. America is no longer ours. America belongs to the Jews who rule it and to the mud people who multiply in it.”
The SPLC website further stated that Cross had indicated in self-distributed racist texts that his goal was to “unite, organize, educate, recruit” against the Jews until “death or victory.”
News outlets reported that Cross was heard yelling “Heil Hitler” as police took him into custody.
Obama said in a statement Sunday that “Michelle and I offer our thoughts and prayers to the families and friends who lost a loved one and everyone affected by this tragedy. I have asked my team to stay in close touch with our federal, state and local partners and provide the necessary resources to support the ongoing investigation.”
“The timing is terrible. The timing is awful,” CNN quoted Rabbi Herbert Mandl, a chaplain for the Overland Park police, saying.
On Sunday evening the local Jewish and Christian communities held a joint vigil in memory of the victims at the St. Thomas the Apostle Episcopal Church. Several community leaders spoke there, and congregants sang songs together. Many of Reat’s schoolmates were also said to have attended.
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. Corporon died at the scene, while his grandson was evacuated to hospital and later died of his wounds there. 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.
Police took Cross into custody at the Valley Park Elementary School, several blocks from Village Shalom, a short time later.
Police said the suspect was in his 70s, but would 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.
About 75 people were inside the JCC’s theater during the shooting most of them children who had come to audition for the high school singing competition. They were told to find shelter in the locker rooms.
Many Jewish groups spoke out following the attack. Karen Aroesty, St. Louis Regional Director at the Anti-Defamation League, called the shooting “a cowardly, unspeakable and heinous act of violence.”
B’nai B’rith International said it hoped “the investigation is both thorough and expeditious and extended its “condolences to the victims, families and entire Jewish community in the Kansas City area.”
According to the FBI, nearly two thirds of anti-religious hate crimes in the United States target Jews or Jewish sites.
A total of 674 incidents took place in 2012 alone, bureau data showed.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a major US Muslim group, said it stood with the Jewish community after the killing spree.
“We are saddened by this vicious act of hatred,” CAIR said.
“Americans of all faiths must join together to reject the kind of extremist ideologies that can lead to such inexcusable and unconscionable acts.”
Rebecca Shimoni Stoil, AP and AFP contributed to this report.