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Holocaust Museum Reopens Two Days After Shooting

GILLIAN GAYNAIR   06/12/09 09:18 PM ET   AP

Museum

WASHINGTON — Liz Johnson showed up Friday to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum with 12 Girl Scouts in tow. None of them was alive when the Holocaust took place, but they were determined that a fatal shooting at the museum two days earlier wouldn't keep them from supporting its mission.

The members of the Dallas troop were among the hundreds of visitors who streamed into the museum as it opened for the first time since authorities said 88-year-old James von Brunn of Annapolis, Md. gunned down a security guard who had opened the door for him.

"To say that we can't do this because of this event is that man winning," said Johnson, 35, whose group clad in lavender T-shirts was among the first people in line. "We're not going to let him win."

The museum, which was closed Thursday for a day of mourning, opened to crowds that officials said were about the same size as usual this time of year.

Meanwhile, rabbis around the country were preparing to discuss the shooting with their congregations at weekend services. At the conservative B'Nai Torah Congregation in Boca Raton, Fla., Rabbi David Englander expected the shooting to resonate with the 1,300-family temple's numerous Holocaust survivors.

"This is an assault on what they went through," Englander said. "This isn't just some statistic or some random act of violence. It's representative of Holocaust denial everywhere."

At the museum, few signs of the shooting remained. The crime scene tape was gone, and the bullet-scarred front doors had been replaced.

About two dozen flower bouquets near the entrance formed a makeshift memorial to the slain guard, 39-year-old Stephen T. Johns, who lived in Temple Hills, Md. On top of one bouquet was a photo of the slain security guard Johns, who was black, with the inscription, "Truly a righteous Gentile." The term "righteous gentile" has been used to describe non-Jewish people who took risks to save Jews from the Holocaust.

Before talking Friday to museum visitors about surviving the Holocaust, 89-year-old Charles Stein of Springfield, Va., called von Brunn a "crazy one" and said he was concerned there could be copy-cats. The native Austrian's parents were killed in Nazi gas chambers in 1942.

He added that the world will always have its share of Holocaust deniers and anti-semites such as von Brunn. "There's nothing you can do about it," Stein said. "Unfortunately, we have laws to protect people like him for saying whatever he wants to say."

Authorities have charged von Brunn with murder in the Wednesday attack and are considering whether to file hate crime charges. Von Brunn, who was shot in the face by other guards, remained in critical condition Friday.

Two security guards, both former police officers, fired at von Brunn at least eight times as he walked in the doorway of the museum, according to court documents. No one else was injured.

The chairman of the D.C. police union said Friday that one of the guards who returned fire was Harry Weeks, who retired from the force in February after more than 27 years.

"I consider him a hero," Kristopher Baumann said. "He stepped up and put his life at risk in order to protect tourists and visitors."

The other guard, 30-year-old Jason McCuiston, said he had worked as a police officer outside of Atlanta but declined to discuss the shooting beyond confirming that he returned fire.

At Temple Beth Shalom in Arnold, Md., near von Brunn's Annapolis home, Rabbi Ari Goldstein said he wants to make it clear that anti-Semitism and racism are still issues.

"This is where this guy is from," said Goldstein, who plans to talk to congregants Friday. "Our town is not free of this type of hate."

Rabbi Linda Henry Goodman of the Union Temple of Brooklyn, N.Y., said she planned to take a few minutes during Friday's evening services "to remind all of us of our obligation to engage in 'Tikkun Olam' _ that's Hebrew meaning to repair the world, which is really the sacred mission of Jews."

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Associated Press Writers Brian Westley in Washington, Matt Sedensky in Miami, Verena Dobnik in New York City and Aaron L. Morrison in Baltimore contributed to this report.

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Filed by Rachel Weiner  |