OVERLAND, PARK KANSAS – Three people were killed Sunday afternoon at two different Jewish community facilities in a Kansas City-area suburb, and a man was held in custody as police attempted to discover whether or not the shootings were anti-Semitic, authorities said.
Police said it was too early to determine a motive for the shootings, but added they were not ruling out the possibility that they were a hate crime. They have called in the Federal Bureau of Investigation to assist with the investigation, Overland Park Chief of Police John Douglass said in a news conference.
“We know it’s a vicious act of violence. Obviously two Jewish facilities, one might make that assumption.” Douglass said.
The shootings started around 1 p.m. at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City in Overland Park, Kansas. Two males were shot in a parking lot outside the center, with one dying at the scene and another later at a hospital. The shooter then drove just over a mile to the Village Shalom retirement community, a facility that provides nursing services to elderly residents. A female was shot and killed there, Douglass said.
Two other people were shot at, but not hit, the police chief said, adding that a shotgun and possibly other types of guns had been used.
The suspect, a bearded white male in his 70s, was taken into custody in the parking lot of a nearby elementary school, Douglass said. He declined to identify the suspect, but said he was not from Kansas.
Douglass said he was not able to 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.”
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 for an upcoming music production in the facility’s theater, others were exercising in the center’s gym, and the academy was preparing for a school dance.
Many non-Jewish people are regularly involved in the facility’s many activities.
Bailey Wainestock, 16, was one of nine teenagers attending a youth organization meeting at the community center when the shooting took place. They barricaded the door and remained locked in for more than an hour until security officers rushed them out.
“We didn’t know what to think, we were all in shock,” Bailey Wainestock told reporters.
Her father, David Wainestock, who rushed to the Jewish center to retrieve his daughter, said the situation was terrifying.
“It’s pretty traumatic,” he said. “The thought of something like that happening is terrifying. “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, also rushed to the Jewish Community Center when he heard the news of the shooting.
The Kansas City area has a Jewish community numbering around 20,000.
“This is so abberational. 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.”
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback called the shootings “senseless.”
“We will pursue justice aggressively for these victims,” he said in a statement.