OVERLAND PARK, Kansas (Reuters) – Three people were killed Sunday afternoon at two different Jewish community facilities in a Kansas City-area suburb, and a man was in custody as authorities investigated whether or not the shootings were anti-Semitic, authorities said.
Police said it was too early to determine a motive for the shootings, but they were not ruling out the possibility that the shootings were a hate crime. They have called in the Federal Bureau of Investigation to assist with the investigation, Overland Park Police Chief 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 male victims in a parking lot outside the center were shot, with one dying at the scene and another later at a hospital. The shooter then drove just a mile away to the Village Shalom retirement community that provides skilled nursing services for residents. A female was shot and killed there, Douglass said.
Two other people were shot at, but not hit, the police chief said, and a shotgun was involved and possibly other types of guns.
The suspect, a bearded white male in his 70s, was taken into custody in the parking lot of a nearby elementary school, Douglass said. Douglass declined to identify the suspect, but said he was not from Kansas.
Douglass said he could not 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 in the facility’s theater for an upcoming music production, people were exercising in the center’s gym, and the academy was preparing for a school dance.
Many non-Jewish people regularly were 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 Reuters.
Her father, David Wainestock, who rushed to the Jewish center to retrieve his daughter, said the situation was terrifying.
“It’s pretty traumatic,” David Wainestock 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 of about 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 Governor Sam Brownback called the shootings “senseless.”
“We will pursue justice aggressively for these victims,” Brownback said in a statement.
(Reporting by Kevin Murphy and Carey Gillam in Kansas City; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst, Frances Kerry and Meredith Mazzilli)