Kansas Police: Fatal Sunday shooting spree at Jewish center was hate crime

Shooter charged with capital and pre-meditated murder, could face death penalty; witness: “I’ve never felt this unsafe calling myself Jewish.”

Frazier Glenn Cross (photo credit: REUTERS)
Frazier Glenn Cross
(photo credit: REUTERS)
OVERLAND PARK, Kansas — Sunday’s attack on the Overland Park Jewish Community Center and the Village Shalom retirement community has officially been labeled a hate crime, Overland Park police chief John Douglass told reporters on Monday, less than 24 hours after three people were killed outside those buildings.
On Tuesday, state prosecutors announced that the suspect would be charged with three counts of murder. Police identified him as Frazier Glenn Cross, Jr., 73, from neighboring Missouri.
They said the suspect also goes by the names Frazier Cross, Frazier Glenn Miller and Glenn Miller.
US District Attorney for Kansas Barry Grissom and Johnson County district attorney Steve Howe announced that Cross would be charged with one count of capital murder in the deaths at the JCC, and one count of first-degree premeditated murder for the death at Village Shalom.
Howe told local news outlets he had not yet decided whether to pursue the death penalty.
Under Kansas law, a person is eligible for the death penalty if he or she is convicted of killing two or more people.
On Monday, Douglass said Cross was the sole focus of the investigation but would not comment as to whether it had been a premeditated attack or whether the suspect shouted “Heil Hitler” from the back of a police car, as a widely-circulated video seems to show.
Michael Kaste, special agent in charge of the Kansas City FBI office, would not comment further on what groups Cross might be affiliated with, but the FBI, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League identified the suspect as a white supremacist and former high-ranking member of the Ku Klux Klan.
Cross was arrested in 1987 and served a five-year sentence for possession of a hand grenade after becoming notorious for perpetrating hate crimes against African-Americans.
Kaste added that he had been known to the FBI but was not being actively watched for potentially disruptive or violent behavior.
Police confirmed the identity of the victims: Dr. William Lewis Corporon, 69, and his grandson, Reat Griffin Underwood, 14, a freshman at Blue Valley High School who had come to the JCC to audition for the singing competition “KC Superstar.” Corporon died in or near his car in the parking lot.
Underwood succumbed to his injuries at the hospital.
The third victim was identified as Terri LaManno, nee Hastings, 53, of Kansas City, who was visiting her mother at Village Shalom.
None of the victims appeared to have been Jewish. Corporon and Underwood were affiliated with the Methodist Church of the Resurrection in nearby Leawood, Kansas, while LaManno was affiliated with the St. Peter’s Parish Catholic Church in Kansas City.
Jacob Schreiber, CEO of the JCC, which serves the greater Kansas City area, read a short statement in which he said the victims and their families were “dear to us” and that the JCC leadership’s “heartfelt prayers are with them.” Schreiber added that he had been “heartened by the outpouring of support” from the community. “It strengthens us as we move forward from this tragedy,” he said.
Logan Cole, 16, and Bailey Wainstock, 16, who serve as president and vice president, respectively, of the local B’nai B’rith Youth Organization chapter, arrived at the JCC a little before 12:30 for their weekly board meeting. Both Cole and Wainstock said they had parked their cars near the theater where the shooting occurred, as they were originally supposed to be in a nearby conference room. The meeting began at around 12:30 p.m. At 1 p.m. another girl in the room got a text from her father saying there had been a shooting at the theater.
At first, Cole and Wainstock said, everyone thought it was the AMC movie theater at the mall across the street. But when they found that the theater was in fact the one right below them, they sprang into action.
“We barricaded the doors, pushed the table against it and put the chairs on top of it,” Wainstock said.
They then sat for the better part of an hour trying to figure out what to do as the room got hotter and emotions ran high.
“We figured we should call security and let them know we were up here, and then after about two hours they finally told us we could be released,” she continued. “We had no clue what was going on. Our only contact was through Twitter and Facebook and our parents.”
Cole called it “unsettling because you never think it would happen in your own community.”
“You hear about these things and you never realize that it can and did happen,” she continued.
“I never thought I would be in this type of situation.”
Cole said she shuddered to think what might have happened had they been in their original conference room, or if she had needed to get something from her car between meetings.
“It could have been such a different situation,” she explained. “I’ve never felt this unsafe calling myself Jewish, and that’s really hard. That’s something that shouldn’t happen.”
Wainstock’s father, David, 55 and a Kansas City native, said he was proud of how calmly and efficiently the young women at the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization meeting had reacted.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” he stated. “It’s absolutely phenomenal. It was a parent’s nightmare. You didn’t know if there were bombs or what else there might be. I mean, maybe there’s been anti-Semitic graffiti or property damage before, but nothing like this.”
Wainstock attended an interfaith memorial service Sunday night when a woman stood up to announce to the church that she had lost her father and her son, referring to Corporon and Underwood.
“There was a collective gasp in the room and immediate sobs,” he said. “It took such courage to announce something like that. It’s affected all of us.”
Keith Klein, a resident of nearby Leawood, Kansas, was at the JCC playing racketball when the lockdown happened.
“If you were in Israel, you’ve probably done this many times and this is nothing,” he said later.
Klein was stuck in a locker room with 35-40 other men, several of whom asked to borrow his cell phone to call loved ones. He described the atmosphere as calm and said the men tuned the TV in the locker room to CNN to find out what was happening.
In the wake of several highway drive-by shootings in the past week or two, Klein said, he thought it was just “some guy in the parking lot who had shot a couple of windows and left. I never imagined that he would have shot at people. I thought it would be over quickly.”
He described Leawood as having a “big Jewish and non-Jewish community” where “everyone gets along perfectly. This has never happened before.”
Rabbi David Glickman of Congregation Beth Shalom in Overland Park told The Jerusalem Post he had been alerted to the shooting by a congregant and rushed over to the JCC to see if he could help.
“Overland Park is a small community,” Glickman said. “This is just a JCC. This is the JCC.
Everyone’s there on Sundays.
It’s packed all the time with Jewish and non-Jewish people. It’s a wonderful facility.”
Glickman said people were still processing the events.
“I think people are scared, people are very upset, even though as it so happened the individuals who were killed were not Jewish, it could have been anybody,” he said. “I think there’s a feeling of, if it can happen here it can happen everywhere.”
The rabbi said he had no idea what had been going through the suspect’s head.
“For the Jewish people, who have a long memory, we know that Passover historically has been a time of violence against the Jews,” Glickman continued.
“However, it isn’t that way in America. And it certainly isn’t that way in Overland Park.
This is a place of cooperation and mutual respect.”
A friend of the LaManno family, Brian Fowler, told the Kansas City Star that Terri LaManno had been a devoted family member and worked as an occupational therapist at the Children’s Center for the Visually Impaired. St. Peter’s church released a statement calling her “a loving mother and wife, and a gentle and giving woman. She will be greatly missed by our community.”
Will Corporon, son of William Lewis Corporon and uncle of Reat Underwood, released a statement on behalf of the family saying they “take comfort knowing they are together in Heaven.” Reat was an Eagle Scout who participated in theater and debate activities, and his grandfather was a family physician in Kansas City who moved with his wife from Oklahoma in 2003 to be closer to their grandchildren.
At a Palm Sunday service on the day of the shootings, the senior pastor of the Methodist Church of Resurrection, Rev.
Adam Hamilton, paid tribute to Corporon and Underwood.
There is a planned interfaith service scheduled for Thursday, and a walk in support of the families of the victims scheduled for Friday night after Shabbat services.
Jacob Bell, 17, a junior at Blue Valley High School, where Underwood was a student, said everyone there would wear white on Tuesday to commemorate him.
The Jewish Federations of North America, along with the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and the Secure Community Network, which describes itself as a “national homeland security initiative of the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations,” convened a special security briefing on Monday with more than 350 Jewish community leaders around the country.
Paul Goldenberg, national director of the Secure Community Network , said in a statement: “In the aftermath of the horrific shooting in Overland Park, we must remain alert at our Jewish communal institutions and places of prayer. However, we cannot let this crime of hate instill fear in our Jewish community. We encourage you to celebrate the upcoming Passover holiday without intimidation by these singular acts of violence.”