- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 11, 2009

The victim in Wednesday’s fatal shooting at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum was described by friends and colleagues as a “gentle giant” who had died “heroically in the line of duty,” having served at the institution for six years as a security guard.

Leaving behind a wife of one year and a 12-year-old son, Officer Stephen Tyrone Johns, 39, was killed Wednesday afternoon when a gunman opened fire at the museum.

Authorities say the suspected shooter, 88-year-old James W. von Brunn, a convicted felon, espoused anti-Semitic ideology on a Web site featuring him and was praised by white supremacists for serving 6 years in prison after trying to kidnap members of the Federal Reserve Board in 1981.

Police say von Brunn opened fire at the museum around 12:50 p.m., wounding Mr. Johns. Two other security officers immediately returned fire, hitting von Brunn. Both men were taken to George Washington University Hospital, where Mr. Johns later died of his wounds.

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Von Brunn was described as in critical condition.

Mr. Johns, a resident of Temple Hills, Md., was an employee of security firm Wackenhut. He stood a towering 6 feet 5 inches, weighing 300 pounds.

Gregory Bryant, Mr. Johns’ direct supervisor, described the slain officer as a “gentle giant.”

“Always with a smile on his face,” Mr. Bryant told The Washington Times as a fellow security officer handed him a piece of black tape to put over his badge in honor of their fallen comrade.

President Obama said Wednesday that Mr. Johns was a “courageous security guard” who “stood watch at this place of solemn remembrance.”

“This outrageous act reminds us that we must remain vigilant against anti-Semitism and prejudice in all forms,” the president said in a statement.

Early Wednesday evening, the museum released a statement declaring its shock and grief over the incident.

“Officer Stephen Tyrone Johns died heroically in the line of duty. There are no words to express our grief and shock over these events,” the statement read. “He served on the museum’s security staff for six years. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Officer Johns’ family.”

On Wednesday, a uniformed officer and four civilians lowered the U.S. flag outside of the museum doors to half-staff.

Michelle Bollman contributed to this report.

• Jon Ward can be reached at jward@washingtontimes.com.

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