Kansas’s tight-knit Jewish community was rocked just one day before the beginning of Passover on Sunday as a gunman killed three people and injured another in attacks just minutes apart outside the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City in Overland Park and a nearby retirement village.
Even though the victims turned out to not even be Jewish, the tragedy prompted Jewish institutions around the country to go on alert.
Anti-Defamation League Associate regional director Joshua Cohen said that immediately after receiving news about the shootings, ADL staff remained in close contact with police in the Philadelphia area, who Cohen said made hourly checks on local Jewish institutions as a precaution while information from Kansas City unfolded.
Cohen added that though there were no special security advisories for the local area, Sunday’s sad event served as a reminder for Jewish institutions to take their security measures seriously.
“Security is a long-term process,” Cohen said. “It’s important for institutions to review their security resources on a regular basis.”
The Anti-Defamation League 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.
At the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, lobby receptionist Barbara Nickel said that staff had been placed on “high alert.”
While there were no specific warnings or causes for concern, Nickel said that she was instructed in the wake of the Kansas City shootings to strictly enforce federation employees’ use of their access cards.
Captain Bill Boegly of the Township of Lower Merion Police Department told the Jewish Exponent that there would be extra police patrols near synagogues during the Passover holiday and that enforcement officials were given instructions to pay special attention to areas of the township with a high Jewish population.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a hate group monitor, identified the alleged gunman as Frazier Glenn Miller, a 73-year-old from Aurora, Mo., with a history of racist and anti-Semitic activity.
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. He had served three years in prison on weapons charges and for plotting the assassination of the law center’s founder, Morris Dees, according to a statement from the agency.
As of press time, Miller was reportedly booked in jail on suspicion of premeditated first-degree murder. (Due to the Passover holiday, the paper went to press early, on Monday afternoon.)
Overland Park Police Chief John Douglass said the shooter opened fire around 1 p.m. on Sunday in the parking lot behind the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City. William Lewis Corporon died at the scene, and his 14-year-old grandson, Reat Griffin Underwood, later died at the hospital. Both were members of United Methodist Church of the Resurrection. Underwood had come to the JCC to audition for a singing competition open to all area teenagers.
The gunman then drove to the Village Shalom retirement community parking lot, where he shot and killed Terri LaManno, a Catholic mother of two who had come to visit her mom.
Police said the gunman also shot at two other people during the attacks, but missed.
Some reports said that the gunman asked people if they were Jewish before firing his weapon and that he shouted “Heil Hitler” at the time of his arrest.
Nationally, Jewish institutions moved quickly to condemn Sunday’s events.
“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.”
Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, called the shootings “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,” Saperstein said in a statement. “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.”