Ill. tourists in museum during shooting

June 10, 2009 A man from LaSalle, Illinois was visiting the museum when he heard gunshots.

The suspect is an 88-year-old man with a criminal record, and ties to white supremacy and anti-Semitic groups. James Von Brunn reportedly had two failed marriages.

One of his ex-wives tells a New York newspaper that his racial hatred "ate him alive like a cancer".

James Von Brunn was whisked away to the hospital after the lunchtime shooting at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. That museum usually has 4,600 visitors a day. And on Wednesdsay, that included dozens of tourists from Illinois.

"All of a sudden, I heard four very loud pops, popping sounds," said Mark Lippert, museum visitor.

Mark Lippert of LaSalle County was in the museum with his finacee. They heard the gunfire and then noticed three children sprinting toward them.

"I knew something had to be wrong. And one of the kids said, there is a guy with a gun. Still at that point, I didn't think that could be happening. It was so surreal," said Lippert.

Authorities say the suspect walked into the museum, rifle in hand.

"It appears the suspect, he immediately started firing," said Chief Cathy Lanier, DC metropolitan police.

Security Guard Stephen Tyrone Johns was killed. He was a 39-year-old Maryland man who worked at the museum for six years. Other security guards fired back, hitting the suspect.

The museum was packed with visitors, including students from downstate. Forty one middle school students, mostly 7th and 8th graders, and 3 chaperones from the Maroa-Forsyth school district were in the museum on a field trip.

"We made sure that each parent was reached to see if they had any questions and let them know that their child was OK. The students let us know that they were directed by security and they listened to what they told them to do," said Principal Kathy Massey, Maroa-Forsyth Middle School.

The suspect spent six years in a federal prison after entering the Federal Reserve in 1981 with a shotgun and handgun. He is also known for writing extensively about his hatred for Blacks and Jews on a Web site.

As for the Illinois tourists, all of them got out safely. To open one exit door, Lippert had to hold the handle for 15 seconds before they were freed.

"It was the longest 15 seconds of my life. The door finally did open, people started coming out that door. We got out," said Lippert.

The museum will be closed to honor Officer Johns. And all the students from downstate are returning home, as scheduled.

Copyright © 2022 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.