The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

World, nation, state

April 14, 2014

3 dead in shootings at Kansas facilities

WASHINGTON — Three people died Sunday when a gunman opened fire outside the Jewish Community Center and a senior living facility in Johnson County, Kan.

Police arrested the suspected shooter, a man in his 70s, outside a nearby elementary school. He smiled as he was led away. Police said the man, who was not from Kansas, used a shotgun in the slayings at the Jewish Community Center. He also had a handgun when he was arrested, they said.

Authorities hauled off a four-door white car with Missouri license plates.

“We are investigating it as a hate crime,” said Overland Park Police Chief John Douglass said.

Two of the victims were a 14-year-old boy and his grandfather who attend the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, said church spokeswoman Cathy Bien.

The Rev. Adam Hamilton, the church’s senior pastor, shared the news with church members at the beginning of the evening Palm Sunday service. He said he had been talking to the victims’ family in the hours after the shooting, and they asked him to go through with the Sunday evening worship service.

U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan., who is a member of the church, spoke in the hall toward the end of the service: “It’s a very tough moment for our community, a tough moment for our church. It’s a reminder that evil can strike at any time and today it struck here in Overland Park.”

Two of the victims who died were shot in a car at the community center, and one of them died at a hospital, Douglass said at a news conference.

Five people were hit by gunfire at the center and the Village Shalom senior living facility around 1 p.m.

The gunfire at the west side of the Jewish Community Center came as hundreds of teenagers from across the metro area were expected to audition for a singing contest, and actors were rehearsing for a production of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

“There were tons of kids because this was about to start at 1 o’clock,” said Ruth Bigus, the publicist for the KC SuperStar event.

Matt Davis, who lives in the neighborhood near Valley Park Elementary, said he saw the suspect smiling as he was being arrested.

“I was wondering, why’s the guy smiling when he was being arrested?”

Davis said he did not hear the suspect say anything anti-Semitic, as some witnesses reported. He did note that “Passover starts tomorrow, and it’s an extremely important Jewish holiday.”

“We live in this Jewish community,” Davis said. “It’s hard for me to comprehend something like this, a hate crime.”

Davis was out with his son shopping for a suit for his bar mitzvah, when he heard about the shootings at the Jewish Community Center. His daughter, Abby, was there for a dance event.

Leawood resident Jeff Nessel had just returned to the community center parking lot after dropping off his 10-year-old son, Elijah, there at the building at 1 p.m. when an employee told him to get back inside because there had been a shooting.

“It’s surreal,” Nessel said. “You don’t think it can happen here.”

With urgency - “Let’s go, let’s go!” — staff hustled about 60 people into a room where they were preparing to hold the SuperStars auditions, Nessel said.

“They did a great job,” he said. “It was not a panic, it was ’We have a procedure here, let’s follow it,’ ” he said.

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