- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 22, 2009

By the time he retired in late February, Harry Weeks had worked patrol, homicide, burglary, auto theft and vice for the Metropolitan Police Department, and his last eight years as a technician in the Crime Scene Search Division.

He had worked under Police Chiefs Maurice T. Turner, Isaac Fulwood, Fred Thomas, Larry D. Soulsby, Charles H. Ramsey and Cathy L. Lanier and acting Chief Sonya Proctor.

A few months after bidding farewell to the police department, Mr. Weeks, 50, went back to work - this time for the Wackenhut Corp. security company. He was assigned as a guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in the District.

The suburban Maryland resident had to be recertified to qualify for the special police officer’s license required for the job. He received 40 hours of classroom training that included the laws of arrest and the D.C. code. He also had to requalify at the range with a .38-caliber revolver. Special police officers have the same powers as Metropolitan Police officers.

Mr. Weeks had been on the job with Wackenhut for 45 days when the unexpected happened.

“It was still new to me,” he said. “I was no longer a D.C. policeman. The transition was still on my mind. I was retired yet still a police officer but no longer a D.C. police officer.”

Mr. Weeks didn’t imagine that he would have to put his full police powers back into play so soon when a lone gunman walked into the Holocaust museum on June 10 and started firing, killing security guard Stephen T. Johns, who was kind enough to open the door.

James W. von Brunn, 88, of Annapolis was charged with first-degree murder in the attack.

Mr. Weeks and co-worker Jason McCuiston, who were nearby, fired shots and critically wounded Mr. von Brunn.

It had been a busy morning, Mr. Weeks recalled. Mr. Weeks normally would have been off that day but volunteered to work because the museum was hosting a play - written by author Janet Langhart, the wife of former Defense Secretary William S. Cohen - and a lot of dignitaries were scheduled to attend. He was on the day shift and stationed at the front door.

“It was just by luck [Mr. McCuiston] was right next to me when it happened,” Mr. Weeks said. Mr. McCuiston was serving as a “break officer,” relieving his colleagues for lunch.

“We drove to work together and we ended up standing next to each other. We ended up stopping this guy from getting into the museum. We stopped him in seconds,” Mr. Weeks said.

Mr. Weeks said Mr. Johns had scolded him that morning for allowing a woman in a group from Argentina, who spoke no English, to enter. She didn’t understand that she was required to have her purse scanned before entering. Mr. Johns used his best Spanish to call her back and have her purse scanned.

That was the last conversation between Mr. Johns and Mr. Weeks. Two hours later, Mr. Johns was dead.

Mr. Weeks said he could not talk about the shooting episode because it is an active case with legal proceedings in the criminal justice system.

Mr. Weeks and Mr. McCuiston were taken away from the museum concourse, separated and transported to the Violent Crimes Unit of the Metropolitan Police Department to give statements.

“Being an MPD officer, I knew I was involved in a shooting and that I’d need to be questioned. It was surreal,” he said.

After he retired, he said, “I never thought the same men and women I worked with I would see again in one spot. That was unbelievable.

“It was hard to talk to them. I really didn’t want to see them. I just wanted to get it over with and go home.”

When the Metropolitan Police Department took command of the scene, he said, he knew the incident was serious.

“I thought the suspect had died. I still thought Johns was alive,” Mr. Weeks said.

But Mr. Weeks was told that Mr. Johns was not doing well.

“I could look up and see other officers crying,” Mr. Weeks said.

When he arrived at the department, his close friend Sgt. Wayne Rimel, “reassured me that [Mr.] Johns was OK, and that made me feel better,” Mr. Weeks said. “But, as I was walking up the steps, I saw one of my supervisors. I asked him if Johns was all right,” he said. “He just looked at me. I looked at him. I knew something was terribly wrong. I asked the sergeant, ‘Is Johns dead?’ and he said he had died. When he told me, I started to cry because I was upset, shocked, sad. When I last saw him, he was still alive.”

Mr. Weeks continued. “Many officers I worked with came up to the Violent Crimes Unit to see if I was all right. Emilio Martinez, my son’s godfather, was one of the first ones there. He was glad I was alive. The rumor was I had died,” he said.

When Mr. Weeks arrived on the job, he said, Mr. Johns was one of the first people to introduce himself. He was a big man at 6 feet 7 inches and weighed 300 pounds, Mr. Weeks said.

“A few times, he relieved me on post for a break. He asked me what it was like to be a D.C. policeman,” Mr. Weeks said. He added that Mr. Johns liked to talk about football, and he was always friendly.

“Like when you first start school, he would be the first person to speak to you,” he said.

After the Holocaust museum shooting, Mr. Weeks received weekly counseling with the police department psychologist.

He returned to duty on Aug. 31.

“I really wanted to go back to work; I wasn’t going to quit,” Mr. Weeks said. “My buddy [Jason] went back on Aug. 10, and I wanted to go back because he was there. It was really good for me to go back, get closure, and move on.

“There is support there. I can’t deny that. I know they want me there. That makes me feel good.”

On his first day back, his colleagues provided a warm welcome with clapping and hugs. “People I don’t even know say ‘hello’ to me. They notice how important the officers are now,” Mr. Weeks said.

Reflecting back to that day stirs painful memories for Mr. Weeks.

He said: “I wish it hadn’t happened. I don’t feel like a hero. Thank God for 27 years on the police department. I knew I had to respond. The training kicked in.”

Is there a lesson learned or an insight that remains with him after all he has been through?

He answered: “Never take anything for granted. Enjoy today because, within seconds, it can be gone.”

Karen L. Bune serves as a consultant for the Justice Department. She is an adjunct professor at George Mason University and Marymount University in Virginia.

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