NEW YORK — Three people are dead, and five were shot at on Sunday afternoon at the Overland Park Jewish Community Center and the nearby Village Shalom near Kansas City, Kansas. Police confirmed the shootings on Sunday evening.
The attacks occurred on the eve of Passover, the Jewish holiday of freedom and liberation.
The victims’ names were not released, but the police did confirm that two of the victims were male and one was female; two died on-site, and one 14-year-old boy succumbed to his wounds at a nearby hospital. The ages of the two other victims were not released.
The two male victims were a grandfather and his grandson, according to the local Kansas City Star. Their family belonged to the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, church spokeswoman Cathy Bien told the Star.
Overland Park Police Chief John Douglass said at a press briefing that it was too early to label the attacks as anything other than "vicious acts of violence."
“We might make that assumption but we need to know more,” he added, emphasizing that at the time of the press conference, the investigation was only three hours old.
However, local news station KMBC caught the suspect yelling what sounds like "Heil Hitler" on camera as he sat in the back of a police car.
Douglass said the suspect in custody was a white male with a beard in his seventies who is not from Kansas, but police would not release his name, or say what other evidence they had collected from the suspect’s car. As of Sunday evening, the man was in custody at the Johnson County Detention Center.
Douglass confirmed that a shotgun was involved in at least one of the incidents, and police were looking into the possible use of handguns and an assault rifle. Douglass did not confirm what many outlets reported — that the suspect shouted “Heil Hitler” — but said merely that the suspect made “several statements” while in the back of the police vehicle that were being vetted for accuracy and evidentiary value. Douglass added that the suspect was not known to the police before today, nor did they have any information or indication of a prior plot on these two sites.
“This was, unfortunately, totally unexpected,” Douglass said. “If we had slightest hint that something might have happened, we would have done everything to stop it. The Community Center has really worked hard to maintain safe environment, and we’ve worked with them. It is, somewhat, a personal tragedy. ”
Douglass told reporters that the first 911 call came in around 1:03 pm from the Jewish Community Center at 5801 West 115th street in Overland Park. Several shots were fired at that location outside the theater in the back of the building where there was an audition taking place. Police received a second 911 call minutes later from Village Shalom, and the suspect was apprehended and taken in in the parking lot of the Valley Point Elementary Shoot. The back double-doors of the JCC also sustained substantial damage, police said. There was no indication the suspect knew the victims.
Local and state authorities will be working with the Kansas city office of the FBI during the investigation, an official from the FBI confirmed.
Overland Park mayor Carl R. Gerlach spoke briefly prior to Douglass, extending his “heartfelt condolences to the family members of the victims.”
“This is a sad day for Overland Park,” Gerlach said. “There is no additional concern at this time. We are actively investigating this case, and we need to pull together to ensure the safety of all. Rest assured that law enforcement is doing everything they can to solve this.”
Brian Brookbank, a local man who witnessed the arrest of the suspect, told the Jerusalem Post that he and his wife were about 10 feet away when they saw around four policemen with assault rifles handcuff an older man with a full head of black and white hair, who seemed very passive and completely calm. Brookbank also drove by Village Shalom when he saw two officers attempting to resuscitate a victim.
“We saw the police in the parking lot with one person lying on the ground with about 8 inches wide and 6-7 feet long of blood underneath them,” Brookbank said. “…I turned to my wife and said ‘That person's not going to live, that's way too much blood.’”
The JCC of Kansas City, the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Federations of North America, and B’nai B’ritsh International all released statements expressing their condolences for the victims and solidarity with the Jewish community of Overland Park.
"Our hearts go out to the victims of this heartbreaking tragedy," said AJC Executive Director David Harris.”…We can't help but note that this attack comes on the eve of Passover, a celebration of Jewish freedom from oppression and violence."
The Westboro Baptist Church, infamous for their picketing of the funerals of dead American soldiers, announced on Twitter that they will be picketing the funerals of those killed in the shooting.