Alleged Holocaust Museum Shooter Hated Jews, Ex-Wife Says

Suspect, 88, in custody, seriously wounded -- has alleged ties to hate site.

June 10, 2009, 2:05 PM

June 10, 2009— -- The elderly man who allegedly triggered a fatal shootout today at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington has a long history of racist and antisemitic anger, but is also an artist with a special fondness for ducks, according to people who know him.

Ever since investigators identified James von Brunn, 88, as the man who allegedly walked into the museum with a .22-caliber rifle this afternoon and began shooting, they have been piecing together a disturbing portrait of him.

Watch "Good Morning America" Thursday for more comments from slain security guard Stephen Tyrone Johns' family and more on this story.

Writings in his name have been found on numerous racist, antisemitic and neo-Nazi Web sites, and his ex-wife told ABC News by phone that "he was eaten alive like a cancer with his hatred of Jews and blacks."

A security guard who was wounded during the shootout, Stephen Tyrone Johns, died as the result of his injuries, the museum's director said today.

Von Brunn, who was also wounded in the exchange of gunfire with Johns and two other guards who rushed to his aid, was in serious condition late today.

Von Brunn's ex-wife, who asked that her name not be used, said she is "totally against" his alleged actions today, calling the incident "very, very sad. Horrible."

The woman said she and the shooting suspect were married for a decade, but divorced about 30 years ago because she disagreed with his extremist views, which she said she learned about after they married.

They had one son, Erik, but, "Our son despised James' beliefs like I did," she said.

Erik von Brunn lived with his father in Easton, Pa., and Annapolis, Md., but now is a student at a college in Maryland and no longer lives with him, the woman added. James von Brunn grew up in Missouri.

Von Brunn's ex-wife said her ex-husband is an artist, and often painted themes with ducks.

She also said she was not aware of any diagnosed mental health issues or other health problems that he had, "but he was an elderly man, he wanted to go out with his boots on like the John Wayne movie 'The Shootist.'"

On the Web site, von Brunn described himself as "an artist and author who lives on Maryland's Eastern Shore". He also claimed a background as a Midwesterner who became a PT boat captain with the Navy reserves in World War II and later worked as an ad executive and film producer in New York City.

He said he has been a member of Mensa, and he has six chapters posted from a book he authored, "Tob Shebbe Goyim Harog," which translates as "To Kill the Best Gentiles!" and claims to outline a Jewish plot against society.

Alleged Holocaust Museum Gunman Tried to Arrest Fed Members

He also outlined a 1981 bid to "place the treasonous Federal Reserve Board of Governors under legal, non-violent, citizen's arrest."

On the site, he claimed he unjustly received an 11-year jail sentence, of which he served 6.5 years, when he was arrested at the Fed after entering the building where the board of governors was meeting, carrying a camera and with weapons hidden under his trench coat.

Von Brunn argued the Fed was not allowed to exist under the Constitution and claimed it was a Jewish means of controlling the U.S. government.

"It is one of many parasitical Rothschild Central Banks infesting the world stage," he wrote on "Its power ascends over every U.S. citizen from cradle to grave. Every dollar in your wallet is a note issued by the FED. The U.S. Government redeems that note (principal and interest) with your taxes. Through its enormous resources and power the FED controls the machinery of the U.S. Government."

A neighbor in Maryland described von Brunn as a standoffish man who didn't socialize with neighbors. The neighbor expressed shock upon hearing von Brunn had been identified as the alleged shooter.

"My God, I live next to that man," Harold O'Lynnger, 82, told ABC News.

O'Lynnger recalled a comment von Brunn had made over drinks three months ago that the media had been giving the Holocaust too much attention.

A statement by museum director Sara Bloomfield, obtained by ABC News, confirmed the death of the security guard and said: "There are no words to express our grief and shock over today's events."

"It is my sad duty to inform you of the passing of Officer Stephen Tyrone Johns, who died heroically in the line of duty today," Bloomfield continued. "He served on the Museum's security staff for six years.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to Officer Johns' family."

Bloomfield said that the museum will remain closed Thursday in honor of Johns.

Johns' son, Stephen T. Johns Jr., told reporters that his father "was a loving father and he was my hero."

The victim's stepfather, Leroy Carter, described Johns as a "responsible human being," and said that with Johns' job at the Holocaust Museum, he "didn't have to worry about the line of work" his stepson was in. Carter didn't think the job would be dangerous but said it "backfired."

Carter said he found out about the shooting on the radio and called his wife and Johns' wife. He also informed Johns' namesake son.

President Obama released a statement Wednesday evening honoring Johns and calling for vigilance against prejudice.

Obama 'Shocked and Saddened' by Holocaust Museum Shooting

"I am shocked and saddened by today's shooting at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum," Obama's statement read. "This outrageous act reminds us that we must remain vigilant against anti-Semitism and prejudice in all its forms. No American institution is more important to this effort than the Holocaust Museum, and no act of violence will diminish our determination to honor those who were lost by building a more peaceful and tolerant world.

"Today, we have lost a courageous security guard who stood watch at this place of solemn remembrance," Obama added. "My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends in this painful time."

Von Brunn allegedly entered the museum with a .22-caliber rifle and exchanged gunfire with Johns, law enforcement officials said. Two other guards returned fire and wounded the alleged gunman.

The incident took place just before 1 p.m. ET, D.C. Metro Police Chief Cathy Lanier said.

Ambulances transported both wounded men to George Washington University Hospital in Washington. Medical personnel treated a third person hurt by glass at the scene of the incident.

At a press conference this afternoon, before city officials were ready to confirm von Brunn as the suspect, Lanier said that though investigators were still in the preliminary stages of the investigation, they believed that the suspected gunman acted alone and that "no prior threats" had been made to the museum.

She added that an off-duty police officer was near the museum at the time of the shooting and immediately responded to the scene.

Joe Persichini, the assistant director in charge of the FBI's Washington Field Office, said those working on the joint investigation will be "working through the night to develop the facts" in the case.

Washington, D.C., Mayor Adrian Fenty praised the museum's security staff as heroes and said, "Our hearts and thoughts go out to the security guard and his family.

"In these days and times, you never know when someone is going to grab a gun and use it in an inappropriate way," he added.

Museum chief of staff Bill Parsons said the museum was full at the time of the shooting, with a "couple thousand" occupants at the time.

He also praised the security staff, saying, "They did exactly what they were supposed to do."

Eyewitnesses described the scene of terror and panic as the incident unfolded.

One told ABC News Radio that he heard five or six shots, and saw a man lying shot outside the building "in front of the front entrance." The witness said the victim appeared to be a security guard.

Holocaust Museum Shooting Terrifies Visitors

Another museum visitor, Dave Unrah of Wichita, Kan., said he was in the museum at the time of the shooting, and heard what he thought were firecrackers and a command for everyone to hit the floor.

Salt Lake City resident Katrina Rougelot and her daughter Miranda had been watching a film exhibit in the museum basement, and initially thought the gunshots were part of the film.

But she said a woman came in screaming that there had been a shooting. Panic ensued, and Rougelot and her daughter hid behind a statue. Security personnel ushered them out of the museum about 30 minutes later.

At a news conference this evening, Bloomfield said, "This is the kind of thing that we prepare for; we take security here very seriously."

D.C. Metro Police flooded the scene, cordoning it off with crime scene tape and closing streets around the museum.

Lanier said authorities swept all the areas around the museum as a matter of routine.

According to law enforcement sources, part of the plan in these situations is to flood the area with police and to make certain there are no accomplices.

As a precaution, the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force is also on the scene gathering information.

The museum, which is adjacent to the National Mall and approximately a mile from the White House, opened in 1993.

ABC News' Polson Kanneth and Andrew Miller contributed to this report.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events