Jewish community centers and other Jewish organizations around the Washington region stepped up their security Sunday, following fatal shootings in the parking lots of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City in Overland Park and a nearby retirement village.
At about 1 p.m., shots were reported outside the JCC’s theater entrance, where auditions were being held for a singling competition for area teenagers. The victims in that attack were identified as William Lewis Corporon and his 14-year-old grandson, Reat Griffin Underwood. A local TV station said they were members of the Church of Resurrection. Two others were shot at, but not injured.
According to police reports, the suspect, identified as Frazier Glenn Miller, 73, of Aurora, Mo., proceeded from the JCC to the Village Shalom community nearby and opened fire, killing one woman before fleeing to a school, where he was arrested.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a hate group monitor, said Miller was the grand dragon of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1980s and subsequently a founder of the White Patriot Party.
Some reports said that the gunman asked people if they were Jewish before firing his weapon and that he shouted “Heil Hitler” about the time of his arrest.
Washington-area Jewish organizations began receiving security alerts soon after the shootings, said Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington.
“Within 20 minutes we were in touch with law enforcement officials [in Montgomery County, the District of Columbia and Northern Virginia] and they all agreed to increase patrols of Jewish facilities,” he said.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington “offered to fund additional security in the form of off-duty police officers to the three area Jewish community centers,” said Michael Feinstein, executive director of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington, in Rockville.
“All three [centers] have taken the Federation up on its offer,” he said.
The shooting appears to be an isolated incident, “yet whenever this happens, we feel the need to be extra vigilant,” said Feinstein.
Vigilance is advisable because the “first worry” after an event such as this “is a hate-inspired copycat,” said Halber.
Jeff Dannick, executive director of the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia, in Fairfax, said he was advised by the Jewish Community Center Association not to divulge the extra security steps his agency took after the shooting.
“The timing is unfortunate in that it’s just before Passover, but fortunate that the JCC is closing for the first two days” of the holiday, he said. “By Thursday, I’m hoping things will be calmer.”
At the Washington DC Jewish Community Center, it will be business as usual, but with additional security, said executive director Carole Zawatsky. The center was planning a community seder Tuesday night.
“We are taking all the measures that are appropriate,” she said.
While the FBI and local police have not called the violence a hate crime, many national organizations are not waiting for confirmation to denounce the shootings. Their responses are in stark contrast to local organizations’ low-key concerns for security.
“Unfortunately, this is not the first time there has been a shooting at a Jewish Community Center,” read a statement from B’nai B’rith International. “Comments attributed to the shooter after police had him in custody demonstrate a blind hatred toward Jews.”
The Anti-Defamation League, meanwhile, noted that just a week before, it released a security bulletin to communal institutions warning of the increased potential for violence around Passover and the April 20 birthday of Adolf Hitler. That day “has historically been marked by extremist acts of violence and terrorism, including the violence at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, and the Oklahoma City bombing,” read the statement.
“We mourn the tragic loss of life in today’s shootings in the Overland Park, Kan., Jewish community,” Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said in a statement. “Early reports indicate that anti-Semitism may have been a factor. If so, it is a tragic reminder, this day before Jews around the world observe Passover, of the hatred that continues to plague our world.”
Halber said such incidents raise the question of how secure the Jewish community wants to be. “There’s a balance between keeping [Jewish facilities] accessible and making them an armed camp,” he said.
The key to responding to emergencies is ongoing training, he added. “The staff has to be trained, the equipment has to be in order to limit the amount of damage until the police can arrive. Security is an ongoing state of mind.”
David Holzel is a WJW senior writer. Heather Norris is a staff reporter for our sister publication, the Baltimore Jewish Times.