- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 20, 2009

They came by the busloads. Friends, family members, colleagues, even strangers who just wanted to pay their respects.

About 2,000 people gathered at Ebenezer AME Church in Fort Washington on Friday to attend funeral services for U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum security officer Stephen T. Johns.

Arriving as early as 7:30 a.m. for the 9 a.m. viewing, hundreds of mourners slowly filed through the church to offer their respects and say their last goodbyes to the slain officer.

Mr. Johns’ casket was placed at the front of the church for the viewing. A line as long as a city block formed in front of the church when busloads of museum workers arrived at the church about 9:30 a.m. Several colleagues lightly tapped the wooden casket with their knuckles as they passed.

During the viewing, mourners could hear the light sobs of Mr. Johns’ wife, Zakiah Pollard, while her 11-year old son, Stephen Jr., attended to her.

Ricco Robinson, 30, a colleague, said Mr. Johns was the type of person everybody liked.

“He was a great guy, real lovable. He was such a gentle man. He wouldn’t hurt a fly. To have something like this happen is unconscionable.”

Duke Woolley, a representative of the Security, Police and Fire Professionals of America, said he attended to “represent all security professionals” in their condolences to Mr. Johns’ family.

“Stephen and everybody else in his line of service are true heroes. We put our lives on the line every day, and it’s only after something like this happens that people understand what we go through,” he said.

Mr. Johns, 39, was fatally shot while working as a security officer at the museum on June 10. That afternoon, authorities say 88-year-old James W. von Brunn, a white supremacist, shot Mr. Johns in the chest with a .22-caliber rifle after Mr. Johns, a black man, opened a museum door for him. Two other security officers returned fire, injuring Mr. von Brunn, who remains in stable condition at a hospital in the District.

Mr. von Brunn is charged with first-degree murder and killing while in possession of a firearm in a federal facility.

The funeral’s invocation was delivered by the Rev. Clinton W. Austin, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Southeast, where services were initially scheduled to be held before they moved to accommodate the large number of people expected for the service.

Among those in attendance were Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and former Defense Secretary William S. Cohen. D.C. Council members Harry Thomas Jr., Ward 5 Democrat, and David Catania, at-large independent, also attended.

Friends and colleagues were quick to mention Mr. Johns’ vibrant personality and caring nature.

“He was relaxed, always kindhearted - I swear he’d give you his last dime in his pocket if you asked,” said Ray Walker, 31, an employee of Wackenhut security services who worked with Mr. Johns at the museum for three years.

The eulogy was delivered by the Rev. John L. McCoy, senior pastor of the Word of God Baptist Church in Southeast, the same church attended by Mr. Johns’ parents.

In his address, Mr. McCoy spoke of his belief that Americans of all races and creeds should gather together to reject the hatred espoused by Mr. von Brunn.

“Even in the ugly face of such hatred, I was deeply moved by the fact that good stood up in defiance of evil,” he said. “People of all faith communities rallied around the family to say that we stand together against such an evil and cowardly act.”

Moniquea Smith, a family friend, delivered the obituary, which included remembrances from family members of the 6-foot-5, 300-pound man remembered mostly for his kindness.

“Stephen was a warm, gentle and calm person,” she said. “He was a great listener, loved to entertain people or be a part of any celebration - so full of love, he was very respectful to all, no matter who was present. Some people referred to him as the ‘gentle giant.’ ”

Condolence letters from D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier and Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat, were read from the pulpit.

An honor guard of officers from local police agencies carried the flag-draped casket from the church about 1:15 p.m., when the service ended.

The Holocaust museum delayed opening until 3 p.m. to allow staffers and Wackenhut employees to attend the funeral.

The museum has set up a memorial fund for Mr. Johns’ family. Donations can be made online by visiting www.ushmm.org, or by calling toll-free 877/918-7466. Checks payable to USHMM Officer Johns Family Fund can be mailed to USHMM, 100 Raoul Wallenberg Place SW, Washington D.C. 20024.

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