OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Three people were shot to death Sunday at two Jewish community facilities here after a man in his 70s opened fire, authorities said. The gunman was believed to be a longtime white supremacist.
As the suspect was taken into custody, he appeared to shout “Heil Hitler” as a local TV crew filmed his arrest.
The shootings took place on the eve of the Jewish holiday of Passover, which begins at sundown Monday.
Although officials refused to identify the suspect, a Johnson County sheriff’s database reported that Frazier Glenn Cross, 73, had been arrested on suspicion of first-degree murder Sunday and was being held without bail. According to court records, Cross is a name used by Frazier Glenn Miller Jr.
Miller is an avowed white supremacist who “has been in the movement all his life,” the Southern Poverty Law Center said in a statement. The center, which tracks white supremacists, said it had confirmed the link between Cross and Miller in a phone conversation with Cross’ wife.
The wife told the center 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.
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 buildings are separated by a major commercial street in this wealthy suburb of Kansas City.
At a news conference, Overland Park Police Chief John Douglass described the shooter as a white man in his 70s who was not from Kansas and didn’t appear to know his victims.
Douglass said dispatchers received the first call about “several shots” fired at 1:03 p.m., where two males 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 a 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.
The FBI has been called into the case, the agency confirmed. It was not confirmed Sunday night whether hate-crime charges would be sought.
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.”
Miller, who founded the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1980s, has an extensive file at the SPLC. He ultimately served three years in prison after being indicted on weapons and robbery charges – in addition to plotting the assassination of the SPLC’s founder, Morris Dees, according to the center’s records. He avoided a significant prison sentence in exchange for testifying against 14 other white supremacist leaders.
Miller recently ran for the U.S. Senate in Missouri, provoking consternation among voters when his ads urged whites to “take the country back” from Jews and “mud people.”
His personal website contained many of the usual paranoid trappings of white supremacist thought: The site features hundreds of words about a Jewish conspiracy to control mass media and the world, and urges an uprising.
“It is my fondish wish, that one day in future, my spirit will rise from my grave, and you will all know that I was right ... as you march, shoulder to shoulder to freedom from jewish bondage and from the nightmares the jews plan for you,” the website stated in a note from “Glenn Miller.”
In Aurora, Mo., neighbors of Miller called him a loner and a white supremacist.
“He’s quite notorious around here,” said farmer Jack Ebert, who said he 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.” Attack a Jewish center, Ebert said, “fits in with his mentality.”
Ebert said Miller lives on Farm Road 1220, not far from the village of Marionville, Mo., and keeps to himself. “He’s pretty much a lone duck,” he said. “He marches to a different tune.”
Neighbors also said that Miller’s son, Jesse Miller, was shot and killed in 2008 by Marionville police after approaching officers with a shotgun. Jesse Miller, 30, had shot and killed a passerby who had stopped to investigate a car crash in which Miller was involved, according to press accounts of the incident.
“The father went around here for years saying that the cop shot his son in the back,” Ebert said. “We all knew that wasn’t true. The policeman told him to stop when he came at him with a shotgun.”
Local press accounts say the elder Miller spent three years in prison after his conviction for federal sedition in Arkansas. After testifying against 14 leading white supremacists in the trial, he was reviled in white supremacist circles as a “race traitor” and, for a while, kept a low profile.
Miller appeared to be trying to make a comeback by pushing a racist tabloid, the Aryan Alternative, which he started in 2005.
A vigil for the victims was held Sunday evening at St. Thomas the Apostle Episcopal Church, where a large cross and a menorah rested on a table.
The Rev. Gar Demo said the idea was to pray for the victims and their families and to call the community to take action.
“Violence isn’t necessarily the answer for us, but we’re calling ourselves to peaceful action,” Demo said.
Word spread quickly that one of the victims was 14-year-old Reat Underwood, a freshman at Blue Valley High School.
His mother, Mindy Corporan, was among the speakers at the vigil. Her father - Reat’s grandfather - was also killed.
“I want you to know that I came upon the scene very very quickly,” Corporan said. “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.”
Some of Reat’s schoolmates also came.
“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,” added Will Sharpe, 16, who was also in the Boy Scouts with Reat. After Sharpe saw the message that his friend was dead, “I stayed in my car; I was there for 2 1/2 hours, and I never got out. My mom eventually got in and drove me here” to the vigil.
The chairs inside the church were filled, and an overflow crowd stood in stairways and in the lobby outside the sanctuary.
After the service, Sharpe sat with his mother toward the front of the church, hunched over in a chair, weeping.
Marshall McCall, 16, wore a “Guys and Doll’s” shirt to the vigil, as did a couple dozen others. Reat had been a member of the production, and was at the Jewish Community Center to audition for a KC Superstars competition, McCall said.
Reat was always singing and upbeat, said McCall, who had been in choir with him.
“I lost my brother in the past,” McCall said. “This felt like that all over again.”
Earlier, Jeff Nessel described his afternoon of terror, saying he had just dropped off his 10-year-old son Elijah at the community center. Nessel barely got out of the building before he heard about the violence.
“Somebody says, ‘There’s been a shooting — you’ve got to get inside,’” Nessel recounted.
He managed to reach the room where his son was hunkered down; it was a theater where a dance competition and auditions for the play “To Kill a Mockingbird” were supposed to be the highlights of the day.
And there they waited.
Meanwhile, Berkley Selvin and some friends huddled in another room behind a barricade of chairs and tables. They had shown up at the community center for a 12:30 p.m. meeting, only to find that the conference room, their usual meeting place, had been locked. So they went to another room a floor above.
“At the time, we were like, ‘Ugh, we have to walk upstairs,’” said Selvin, 16. “Now we realize that it’s so lucky that we weren’t down there.”
Selvin’s father, Jeff, spotted ambulances and fire trucks heading to the same 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 community center’s social hall, where they waited for updates. He had no idea that his daughter was barricaded in a room 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 one of the girls in the room with Berkley Selvin. Trout 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.
One of the girls’ fathers called to say it was safe to come out, but, still frightened, she asked him to put the security guard on the phone to make sure.
Ruth Bigus, a spokeswoman for KC Superstar, a singing competition for high school students in the area, told The Times that an audition was supposed to be underway at the community center around the time of the shootings.
Bigus added that the facility had been bustling with activity.
The Jewish Community Center released a statement through the Kansas City Star. “Our hearts go out to the families who have suffered loss on this tragic day,” the center said. “Our heartfelt gratitude as well to all those in Kansas City and around the world who have expressed sympathy, concern and support.”
Officials across the country also issued statements, including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio.
“On the eve of Passover, New Yorkers stand in solidarity with the Jewish community in Kansas City, mourning those who were lost and wishing a speedy recovery to those who were injured as a result of today’s tragic events,” Cuomo said.
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.