The suspect in the Passover-eve killings of three people at two Jewish centers in the Kansas City area was scheduled to appear in court Monday to face murder charges.
Authorities in Kansas identified the suspect as Frazier Glenn Cross Jr., 73. Cross opened fire Sunday outside a Jewish community center and a nearby retirement community in Overland Park, a Kansas suburb, authorities said.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups, said Cross was once the grand dragon of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
The shootings occurred at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City and Village Shalom, an assisted-living center about a mile away, according to local media.
Two 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 and were Christian. The identity of the third victim, a woman, has not yet been released.
Many non-Jewish people regularly take part in the community center’s activities. Several youth groups were meeting, people were auditioning for a music production, and a school was preparing for a dance.
A person who was earlier reported to be in critical condition was among the three people killed in the attacks, which apparently occurred minutes apart, said Overland Park Police Chief John Douglass at a news conference Sunday evening.
“Today is a sad and very tragic day,” he said.
Shots were fired behind the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City in a parking lot about 1 p.m., Douglass said. One man died at the scene, and another man died at a hospital. The gunman then fled and opened fire at nearby Village Shalom, killing a woman, before later being arrested near an elementary school. Two other people were shot at, but the shooter missed them, Douglass said.
The suspect reportedly made anti-Semitic statements as he was led away, according to the Kansas City Star.
Douglass said it was too early in the investigation to determine if the shootings were hate crimes. The Jewish holiday of Passover begins Monday. The Kansas City area’s Jewish community numbers about 20,000. “We know it was a vicious act of violence, and we know obviously it was at two Jewish facilities. One might make that assumption,” Douglass said.
Police officers were sent to other Jewish facilities in the area immediately after the shootings, he said.
Michael Siegal, chairman of the Jewish Federations of North America, said in a statement that “no community should have to face a moment such as this one.”
Area resident Matt Davis told the Star that he headed to the community center after hearing about the shooting because his daughter was dancing there. He saw the suspect being arrested and led away in handcuffs with a smile on his face, the newspaper said.
“I was wondering why is the guy smiling when he’s being arrested,” Davis told the Star.
President Barack Obama offered condolences to the families of those killed in the shootings, pledged the full support of the federal government during what he called “this trying time” and called reports of the shootings “heartbreaking.”
Rabbi David Glickman, of the Beth Shalom synagogue in Overland Park, was at home preparing for Passover when he heard the news of the shooting.
“Everybody is shocked that it would happen here,” he said. “This is a community that enjoys very strong and positive relations between the Jewish community and the rest of the community.”
Al Jazeera and wire services