(Reuters) – Three people, including a 14-year-old boy, were killed on Sunday at two different Jewish community facilities in the Kansas City area, and a man was in custody as police investigated whether the shootings were anti-Semitic, authorities said.
Police said it was too early to determine a motive, but a leading anti-hate group said the suspect arrested in the shooting was a longtime anti-Semite.
“We know it’s a vicious act of violence. Obviously two Jewish facilities, one might make that assumption,” Overland Park Police Chief John Douglass told a news conference. The FBI has been called in to help with the investigation, he said.
The suspect was identified as Frazier Glenn Cross, Jr., 73, by authorities in Kansas, and by the Southern Poverty Law Center as Frazier Glenn Miller, a longtime anti-Semite who is the former grand dragon of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
He was being held at a Johnson County detention center on suspicion of premeditated murder in the first degree and was scheduled to appear in court on Monday afternoon, according to jail records.
The shootings started around 1 p.m. at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City in Overland Park, Kansas. Two men were shot in a parking lot outside the center, one dying at the scene and the other at a hospital later, police said.
The shooter then drove a mile away to the Village Shalom retirement community that offers skilled nursing services and fatally shot a woman there, Douglass said.
The two male victims were identified as Reat Griffin Underwood, 14, a high school freshman, and his grandfather, Dr. William Corporon, family member Will Corporon said in a statement. Both were members of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection.
Underwood was an Eagle Scout and loved camping and hunting with family, Corporon said. Dr. Corporon had moved to the Kansas City area in 2003 to be closer to his grandchildren.
Two people were shot at, but not hit, the police chief said, adding that it appeared the shooter used a shotgun and possibly other types of guns.
The suspect was taken into custody in the parking lot of a nearby elementary school, Douglass said.
Douglass said he could not confirm reports from witnesses that the suspect had yelled “Heil Hitler” while in the back of the squad car after being taken into custody.
“The suspect in the back of a car made several statements,” Douglass said. “We are sifting through and vetting those for accuracy, number one, and number two, we are looking at them for their evidentiary value.”
President Barack Obama offered condolences. “While we do not know all of the details … the initial reports are heartbreaking,” Obama said in a statement.
The Jewish Community Center, which is also the site of Kansas City’s only Jewish community day school, the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy, was a hub of activity on Sunday.
Several youth groups were meeting, some people were auditioning in the facility’s theater for a music production, and the academy was preparing for a school dance. Many non-Jewish people regularly join in the facility’s activities.
“It’s pretty traumatic,” said David Wainestock, who rushed to the Jewish Community Center to retrieve his 16-year-old daughter who had been among the people temporarily locked down.
“The thought of something like that happening is terrifying,” Wainestock said. “In the Midwest we think we’re safe from this type of thing. But I guess it doesn’t make any difference now.”
Rabbi David Glickman, of the Beth Shalom synagogue in Overland Park, was at home preparing for the Jewish Passover holiday when he heard the news of the shooting.
“Everybody is shocked that it would happen here,” said Glickman. “This is a community that enjoys very strong and positive relations between the Jewish community and the rest of the community.”
The Kansas City area has a Jewish community of about 20,000.