- The Washington Times - Friday, June 12, 2009


WASHINGTON — Among the first visitors to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum when it reopened Friday was the Weech family from Spokane, Wash., separated, then evacuated when a white supremacist entered the building two days earlier and fatally shot a security guard.

“People like this cannot win, and they won’t,” said Georgette Weech, 48, separated from teenage son Jay. “As long as you keep the memory of the Holocaust and the memory of what current Aryan, or Nazi or anti-Semitists do in other people’s memories, they will not win. I’m here because I want my children to learn.”

By noon, more than 3,100 visitors had entered the building, a museum spokesman said. Few visible signs remain of the gunbattle Wednesday afternoon inside the lobby that started when security guard Stephen T. Johns, 39, was fatally shot, then fellow guards returned fire and dropped suspected shooter James W. von Brunn, 88.

The bullet-pocked, glass doors have been replaced and the yellow crime-scene tape is gone. But a small, makeshift memorial of flowers remains outside the museum, just blocks from the National Mall — home to the Smithsonian museums, the Washington Monument and other popular tourist attractions in the Nation’s capital.

The Weeches were among many tourists who purchased tickets for Wednesday and made a point of returning, or for Thursday when the museum was closed in honor of Mr. Johns.

Museum volunteer Charles Stein, an 89-year-old Holocaust survivor, said Friday appeared to be one of the busiest days of spring, the city’s high tourism season.

Visitors said they felt a special reverence inside the museum, already one of Washington’s most somber.

“People just come in and they’re very quiet and very respectful,” said Nichole Radke, 18, who drove 30 hours from Nebraska with her 4-H group. “They’re very appreciative of the officers outside.”

She said the shooting gave new significance to her group’s visit.

“Walking around today, it’s just very poignant,” Miss Radke said. “It’s hard to imagine that discrimination still goes on like that today. It’s not ancient history. People still hate each other just for who they are, or what color they are, or even what religion. It’s just ridiculous.”

Mr. von Brunn, of Annapolis, Md., has been charged with murder. He was shot in the face when the security officers returned fire and remains in critical condition at George Washington University Hospital.

For museum workers, Friday was sadder than the days before but typical in most other ways — checking bags, answering questions and even holding open doors like Mr. Johns did for Mr. von Brunn before the shooting.

Security guard Andre Ingram, 47, said he would miss Mr. Johns and was proud of how his coworkers protected the visitors.

“We train for this every year,” he said. “This is one of the things we do practice, and our practice paid off. He only got the chance to hurt one person of the whole group.”

He recalled Mr. Johns as “one of the nicest people you ever got to meet.”

“It’s just hard,” Mr. Ingram said. “The man opened the door to his death. … Trust me, we’re all going to miss him.”

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