Kansas’ tight-knit Jewish community was rocked just one day before the beginning of Passover as a gunman took the lives of three people in attacks just minutes apart outside the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City in Overland Park and a local retirement home.
According to various news reports, at about 1 p.m., shots were reported outside the JCC’s theater entrance, where auditions were being held for a singing competition for area teenagers. One man was reportedly killed at the scene, while another died at a local hospital. The suspect then fled to the Village Shalom community and opened fire, killing one woman before fleeing to a school, where he was arrested.
Police arrested Frazier Glenn Miller, 73, of Aurora, Mo., who also goes by Frazier Glenn Cross, a white supremacist and former “grand dragon” of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, reports said.
Two others were shot at, but not injured. 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.
A post on the Overland Park JCC’s Facebook page said the institution was closed on Monday. As people in cities across the country finished their last-minute Passover preparations — the eight-day festival began Monday night — many JCCs, including those in the Owings Mills and Park Heights, benefited from a beefed-up police presence.
Local Jewish organizations joined in solidarity to express sympathies to the Jewish community of Kansas City.
“We join in sorrow and horror with Jewish communities around the world as we begin to process the tragedy in Kansas City. Unfortunately, hatred and bigotry still exist in today’s world and humanity must unite in its promotion of tolerance, acceptance and loving kindness,” read a joint statement by Howard Friedman, chairman of the board, and Marc Terrill, president of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. “We extend our heartfelt sympathies to the families of the victims and to the entire Kansas City community as they deal with this senseless violence.”
Michael Hoffman, vice president of community planning and allocations at The Associated, called the event “horrific” and “senseless.”
“Security is always our highest priority and we always take a significant amount of measures to ensure the safety, not just of members of the JCC, but to all members of the Jewish community,” he said.
Barak Hermann, president of JCC of Greater Baltimore, said the JCC trains staff annually and runs drills periodically for emergency situations.
“I think that these events remind us to have a heightened awareness of what’s happening,” he said. “Our job is to make sure people come here and they feel it’s a home away from home, they feel safe and secure.”
A Baltimore City Police car was parked by the front entrance to the Weinberg Park Heights JCC Monday morning. Member Elaine Janovsky said she “felt a little uneasy and on edge” about coming to the JCC, but she and her husband did so anyway.
Keisha Maldonado, a mother of three, said this type of violence is always in the back of her mind as she entered the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC Monday morning.
“I always think twice about things like this,” she said. “I don’t even go to the Columbia mall anymore.”
Howard Cohen and his wife Shirley, JCC members for about five years, said they had “no second thoughts” about working out Monday morning.
A letter to JCC members from Hermann and Will Minkin, chairman of the board at the JCC of Greater Baltimore, said they are continuing to monitor the situation.
“We have been in touch with the police department from both Baltimore City and county and were able to immediately secure police presence at both our campuses until we verified that the tragedy was an isolated incident,” the letter said.
Baltimore County Police Cpl. John Wachter said police are being watchful and “extra vigilant.”
“Any time there’s anything … national that might have an impact on the safety of people in Baltimore County, we’re going to adjust our operations accordingly,” he said.
Arthur Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said the council’s sympathies go out to the Jewish community and the victims.
“Baltimore, like other Jewish communities throughout the United States, recognizes that lone-wolf attacks like this one are very difficult to prevent, but what is of great concern as well is the continued perpetuation of hatred in our politics, the media, etc.,” he said. “We need to do something about this and it is not acceptable to preach hatred.”
Washington-area Jewish organizations worked with law enforcement in Montgomery County, the District of Columbia and Northern Virginia to increase patrols at Jewish facilities. The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington funded additional security in the form of off-duty police officers to the three area Jewish community centers.
While the FBI and police did not initially call the violence a hate crime, many national organizations did not wait for confirmation to denounce the shootings.
“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. “Information about the perpetrator is still being uncovered, but 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.
“It is also yet another horrific instance of an act of senseless violence involving the use of guns to take innocent lives,” continued Saperstein. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those killed and injured in today’s shootings. May the memories of those lost be forever a blessing.”
The JT’s former editor-in-chief, Maayan Jaffe, is director of philanthropy at the Overland Park JCC. She and her family were unharmed.
“I work in this building, my children go to school here, my husband works here,” she said. “Things like this do not happen [here].”
JT digital media editor and senior reporter Melissa Gerr and Washington Jewish Week senior writer David Holzel contributed to this report.