- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 13, 2009

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum reopened Friday to thousands of visitors, many of whom expressed a solemn resolve not to let the tragedy of Wednesday’s fatal shooting deter them from visiting the landmark and living their normal lives.

While a line snaked outside the building’s entrance, there was little sign of Wednesday’s gunbattle that began when security guard Stephen T. Johns was fatally shot inside the museum lobby and ended when fellow guards returned fire and critically injured the purported shooter, James W. von Brunn.

The bullet-pocked glass doors were replaced, and the yellow crime-scene tape had disappeared. But a memorial of flowers remained 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.

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

The names of the two security guards who returned fire on the gunman and stopped the attack surfaced Friday. One of the officers, Jason McCuiston, was a sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps and a police officer in Georgia before he returned to his hometown of Waldorf, Md.

Mr. McCuiston, 30, said he and the other officer involved in the incident - Harry Weeks - carpool together and both had worked at the museum only a short time. Each had agreed to work on his day off on the day the shooting occurred, he said.

Mr. McCuiston described Mr. Johns as a “big teddy bear” and likened him to John Coffey, a character played by Michael Clarke Duncan in the 1999 film “The Green Mile.”

“I can’t express or say enough or give my condolences enough for that man,” Mr. McCuiston said. “We always played around and had a good time every morning before we would take our post for our shift.”

He said he could not discuss the shooting in detail. “I wish we could’ve done more,” he said. “I wish we could’ve prevented a lot more.”

Mr. Weeks is a former Metropolitan Police Department officer who spent nearly 30 years on the force and retired in February, said Kristopher Baumann, who heads the union labor committee that represents the department’s officers.

He called Mr. Weeks a “great public servant.”

“What the general public may not understand is the amount of danger Officer Weeks put himself in,” he said. “Officer Weeks stepped up, put himself in the line of fire and engaged in a gunfight with a handgun against a long gun, and the odds in that aren’t very good.”

By noon Friday, more than 3,100 people had entered the Holocaust museum, a museum spokesman said. The average number of visitors on a Friday at this time of year is about 7,500.

The Weech family, from Spokane, Wash., was among many tourists who purchased tickets to the museum for Wednesday, when the shooting occurred, or for Thursday, when the building was closed in honor of Mr. Johns. The family made a point of returning on Friday.

After a terrifying experience when he was separated from his parents inside the museum during the shooting, Jay Weech, 18, came back to the museum with his family to finish his tour.

“People like this can’t win, and they won’t,” said the teen’s mother, Georgette Weech, 48. “As long as you keep the memory of the Holocaust and the memory of what current Aryan, or Nazi, or anti-Semites do in other people’s memories, they will not win.

“I’m here because I want my children to learn,” she said.

Miss Radke said that the shooting gave new significance to her group’s visit.

“Walking around today, it’s just very poignant,” she 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.”

For the security guards, staff members and volunteers who work at the museum, the day offered a chance to resume their normal duties of checking bags and answering questions.

“We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do,” said Andre Ingram, 47, a museum security guard. “It don’t change a thing. It never changes.”

Still, they kept in mind the loss of their fallen colleague. Mr. Ingram said he was proud that Mr. Johns, 39, was just doing his duty. Everyone at the museum knew the security guard, he said.

“He was real nice - one of the nicest people you ever got to meet,” he said. “It’s just hard. The man opened the door to his death … Trust me, we’re all going to miss him.”

Ann Millin, a historian at the museum, called Mr. Johns “a remarkable human being.”

“But all of us realize the importance of this museum and the work we do here,” she said. “And we’ve come back refreshed and fully committed.”

Holocaust survivor Charles Stein, 89, who has been a volunteer at the museum for 16 years, said Friday was the busiest day of the season that he has seen.

And although Mr. Stein said he considers it “a sad story that there are still people around who are [Holocaust] deniers,” he said the museum can do little to change the minds of those like Mr. von Brunn.

“We’re open today because you can’t let one senseless act interfere with the mission of the museum, which is to keep the memory of what happened during the Holocaust,” he said.

Joseph Weber and Gary Emerling contributed to this article.

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