OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Three people were shot to death Sunday at two Jewish community facilities here, and the suspect — a man in his 70s thought to be a white supremacist — appeared to shout "Heil Hitler!" as he was taken into custody.
The shootings took place on the eve of the Jewish holiday of Passover, which begins at sundown Monday, but police said it was too early to call the shootings, whose victims included a 14-year-old Boy Scout and his grandfather, a hate crime.
The gunfire erupted about 1 p.m. at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City and at the Village Shalom senior living facility, officials said. The two buildings are separated by a major commercial street in this wealthy suburb of Kansas City.
FOR THE RECORD:
Jewish center shootings: An article in the April 14 Section A about three killings at two Jewish facilities in Overland Park, Kan., said that the shootings evoked memories of a similar incident at a Jewish community center in Granada Hills in 2001. That shooting was in 1999. —
Jail records identified the suspect as Frazier Glenn Cross, 73 – a name also used by Frazier Glenn Miller, whom a major civil rights group on Sunday called a former grand dragon for the Ku Klux Klan with an extensive history of hate against Jews, among others. At a news conference, Overland Park Police Chief John Douglass said the shooter did not appear to have known his victims.
The Southern Poverty Law Center on its website Sunday called Frazier Glenn Miller of Aurora, Mo., an avowed white supremacist "who has been in the movement all his life." It identified Miller as the former grand dragon of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, which he founded and ran in the 1980s before being sued by the law center for operating an illegal paramilitary organization and using intimidation tactics against African Americans.
The law center said Miller's wife told them in a phone conversation Sunday that she had last spoken to her husband when he was gambling at a casino in Missouri on Saturday, and that law enforcement arrived at her door Sunday night to tell her he had been arrested in the shootings.
Douglass said dispatchers received the first call about "several shots" fired at 1:03 p.m., after two people were fatally injured in a parking lot behind the Jewish Community Center. The building's back doors took "substantial damage," but it was not clear whether the gunman was intentionally aiming for the doors or whether he missed his targets, Douglass said.
The gunman then apparently traveled a short distance to Village Shalom and killed a woman in that parking lot, Douglass said. Two police officers later found the suspect in the parking lot of a nearby elementary school and arrested him "without incident," the police chief said.
President Obama called the shooting "horrific." In a statement, he said, "Michelle and I offer our thoughts and prayers to the families and friends who lost a loved one and everyone affected by this tragedy.... While we do not know all of the details surrounding today's shooting, the initial reports are heartbreaking."
A vigil was held Sunday evening at St. Thomas the Apostle Episcopal Church, where a large cross and a menorah rested on a table as a capacity crowd gathered. One speaker was the mother and the daughter of the victims killed outside the community center: a grandfather and grandson.
"I just wanted to tell people thank you," said the woman, Mindy Corporan. "I want you to know that I came upon the scene very, very quickly. I was there before the police, and I was there before the ambulance, and I knew immediately that they were in heaven. And I know that they're in heaven together."
The shootings evoke memories of two similar attacks at Jewish community centers in the U.S. In 2001, a racist gunman opened fire in a Jewish community center in Granada Hills, injuring five people, including a 5-year-old boy. In 2006, a man armed with a handgun fired shots at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, killing one woman and wounding at least five others before surrendering to police.
Neighbors in the small community of Aurora on Sunday called the man they know as Frazier Glenn Miller a loner and an avowed white supremacist.
"He's quite notorious around here," said farmer Jack Ebert, who lives down the road from Miller. "He was very racist. I never had any contact with the man but I know people who have. He didn't like anyone who wasn't like him. He was particularly racist against blacks, but it doesn't surprise me that he attacked a Jewish center. It fits in with his mentality."
Word spread quickly Sunday that one of the victims was Corporan's son, 14-year-old Reat Underwood, a freshman at Blue Valley High School.
"I almost passed out when I heard about the shooting. And when I found out it was Reat, I did pass out," said Danny Vandervoort, 18, who had been in Boy Scouts with Reat.
"I saw it on Twitter. That's no way to find out," said Will Sharpe, 16, who was also in the Boy Scouts with Reat.
"I stayed in my car; I was there for 21/2 hours, and I never got out" after seeing the message, Will said. "My mom eventually got in and drove me here" — to the vigil at the church.
Witness described an afternoon of bloodshed and terror as shots rang out and bystanders scrambled for cover. Jeff Nessel said he had just dropped off his son Elijah, 10, at the community center and had barely gotten out of the building when he heard about the violence.
"Somebody says, 'There's been a shooting — you've got to get inside,'" Nessel recounted.
He reached the room where his son was hunkered down — a theater where a dance competition and auditions for "To Kill a Mockingbird" were supposed to be the highlights of the day.
And there they waited.
Meanwhile, Berkley Selvin, 16, and some friends huddled in another room, behind a makeshift barricade of chairs and tables. They had arrived at the community center for a 12:30 p.m. meeting only to find that the conference room had been locked. So they went to another room a floor above.
"At the time, we were like, 'Ugh, we have to walk upstairs,'" Berkley said. "Now we realize that it's so lucky that we weren't down there."
Berkley's father, Jeff, spotted ambulances and fire trucks heading to the community center where his daughter was. He pulled into the parking lot and saw a light-colored Lexus with its windows shot out.
"Either leave the parking lot or get into the building," a security guard told him.
Jeff Selvin joined more than 100 others in the center's social hall, where they waited for updates. He had no idea his daughter was barricaded upstairs.
"Shots fired," he texted her. The girls in the room with her began to scream and then locked the door and assembled a barricade.
Julia Trout, 16, was in the room with Berkley Selvin. She called the building's security number and was told, "Don't take down your barricade, and stay down in that room," she said.
Ninety tense minutes later, both groups were free.
Ruth Bigus, a spokeswoman for KC Superstar, a singing competition for high school students, said that the audition was supposed to be underway around the time of the shootings, and that the facility had been bustling with activity.
After the suspect's arrest, Nessel, 59, said he and his son left the scene to the sight of "lots of cop cars" and blocked-off streets.
"My wife has always been concerned about some loonies out there doing this type of stuff," he said. "You hear these things and it's really surreal."
But they would return, he added. "We're members of the JCC," he said. "We'll be back. You can't leave in fear."
Webber, a special correspondent, reported from Kansas, Pearce from Los Angeles and Glionna from Las Vegas. Times staff writers Laura J. Nelson and Molly Hennessy-Fiske contributed to this report.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times