Lutheran Head Sends Word to Jewish Leaders After Museum Shooting

The head of the largest Lutheran denomination in the nation has written a letter to 14 U.S. Jewish leaders, expressing his "sadness and concern" over the fatal shooting inside the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

"It is reprehensible that such an attack occurred at this place of solemn remembrance of the victims of the Holocaust," commented the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in
America (ELCA).

"Our prayers are with the families of the guard who was killed, as well as with all those present or who work at the Museum and who will remain traumatized by this terrible event," he added.

On Wednesday, 88-year-old James von Brunn – a Holocaust denier and white supremacist who hated Jews, Christians, and the government – walked into the Holocaust Museum with a rifle at his side and started shooting immediately, fatally wounding Stephen T. Johns, the black security guard who opened the door to let him in.

Two other guards eventually shot and critically injured von Brunn after an exchange of fire. On Thursday, von Brunn was charged with murder and killing in the course of possessing a firearm at a federal facility, both capital offenses under federal law. Authorities said Thursday that hate crime charges were also possible due to Johns' ethnicity.

In his letter Thursday to 14 Jewish leaders in the United States, ELCA leader Hanson said he found it "deeply troubling that anti-Semitic acts, such as this one, are still occurring."

And although it has been established that von Brunn regarded both Christianity and the Holocaust as "hoaxes," created by the "Big Lie technique," Hanson assured the Jewish community that his denomination has called upon its members to recognize anti-Semitism as "a contradiction and an affront to the Gospel, a violation of our hope and calling."

"The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America deplores the presence of anti-Semitism in our society," Hanson wrote.

"Therefore, we will continue to live out our pledge 'to oppose the deadly working of such bigotry, both within our own circles and in the society around us,'" he concluded, citing from the 1994 "Declaration of ELCA to the Jewish Community."

On Friday, the Holocaust Museum reopened after closing the day before for a period of mourning. About two dozen flower bouquets near the entrance formed a makeshift memorial to the slain guard, who was 39 when he died.

Johns, who colleagues called "Big John," is survived by his wife, Zakia Johns, and 12-year-old son, Stephen T. Johns., Jr.

A memorial fund for Johns has been established by the American Jewish Committee's Washington D.C. chapter.