A man opened fire inside the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington on Wednesday, killing a security guard before being shot by another guard. Local officials say the suspected gunman, who is believed to have ties to neo-Nazi groups, is in critical condition.
Washington police chief Cathy Lanier says the man walked into the crowded Holocaust Museum Wednesday afternoon and fired several shots.
"It appears that immediately as he entered the front doors of the museum, he raised the rifle and started shooting," said Cathy Lanier.
David Unroe was visiting the museum with his wife and grandchildren when the shots rang out.
"They yelled, 'Hit the floor, hit the floor!' So we did," said David Unroe. "We huddled up with another young family for what seemed like quite awhile, but was only a couple of minutes. At that time, we were scared, wondering what's next, if we're next. And at that time, they yelled, 'Get up and run out, run out!' So we did and followed the crowd."
Museum officials identified the guard who was killed as Stephen Johns. In an e-mail, the museum director said he "died heroically in the line of duty."
According to news reports, law enforcement officials are investigating the suspected gunman, James von Brunn - a man in his late 80s who is believed to have connections to white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups. Von Brunn has a racist, anti-Semitic Internet website.
Police chief Lanier says there is no evidence that any threats had been made before the incident.
"We had no prior information," she said. "There were no prior threats of this nature about this incident. So it appears to be a lone gunman who entered into the museum and opened fire."
Rabbi Andrew Baker is the Director of International Jewish Affairs for the American Jewish Committee. He cautioned that U.S. Jewish groups need to be more vigilant about their security.
"This is something that all of us at Jewish organizations, for a long time, at least in the U.S., did not pay much attention to and particularly, if you contrasted it to what has been the norm in at least European capitals, at synagogues, Jewish organizations, where the security is much more secure, much more intense," said Rabbi Baker.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said President Barack Obama is "saddened" by what happened and that he is monitoring the situation.
The Israeli Embassy in Washington condemned the attack.