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Jewish center shooting kills 3

4/14/2014

OVERLAND PARK (MCT) -- Three people died Sunday when a gunman opened fire outside the Jewish Community Center and a senior living facility in Johnson County.

Police arrested the suspected shooter, a man in his 70s with a beard, outside Valley Park Elementary nearby by 2:45 p.m. He smiled and reportedly made anti-Semitic statements as he was led away. Police said the man, who was not from Kansas, used a shotgun in the slayings at the Jewish Community Center. He also had a handgun when he was arrested.

"We are investigating it as a hate crime," said Overland Park Police Chief, but investigators are not sure of the motive.

Overland Park Police Chief John Douglass would not say whether the man was talking to investigators.

Two of the victims were a 14-year-old boy and his grandfather who attend the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, said church spokeswoman Cathy Bien.

The Rev. Adam Hamilton, the church's senior pastor, shared the news with church members at the beginning of the evening Palm Sunday service. He said he had been talking to the victims' family in the hours after the shooting, and they asked him to go through with the Sunday evening worship service.

The lights were lowered as Hamilton asked members to pray for the family.

"Help us, oh, Lord to grieve as people of hope," Hamilton said.

Two of the victims who died were shot in a car at the community center, and one of them died at a hospital, Overland Park Police Chief John Douglass said at a press conference.

Five people were hit by gunfire at the center and the Village Shalom senior living facility at approximately 1 p.m.

The gunfire at the west side of the Jewish Community Center came as hundreds of high school singers from across the metro area were expected to audition for the K.C. SuperStar contest and actors were rehearsing for a production of "To Kill a Mockingbird."

"There were tons of kids because this was about to start at 1 o'clock," said Ruth Bigus, the publicist for K.C. SuperStar.

The community center was closed today.

"Our hearts go out to the families who have suffered loss on this tragic day," the Jewish Community Center said in a statement. "Our heartfelt gratitude as well to all those in Kansas City and around the world who have expressed sympathy, concern and support."

Matt Davis was shopping for bar mitzvah suits with his son when he heard about the shooting at the Jewish Community Center, where his daughter was dancing. He headed to the center and saw the suspect, a heavyset man in handcuffs, being arrested at the school nearby. The man was smiling.

"I was wondering why is the guy smiling when he's being arrested," Davis said.

Leawood resident Jeff Nessel had just returned to the community center parking lot after dropping off his 10-year-old son, Elijah, there at the building at 1 p.m. when an employee told him to get back inside because there had been a shooting.

"It's surreal," Nessel said. "You don't think it can happen here."

With urgency -- "Let's go, let's go!" -- staff hustled approximately 60 people into a room where they were preparing to have the SuperStars auditions, Nessel said.

"They did a great job," he said. "It was not a panic. It was, 'We have a procedure here, let's follow it,' " he said.

The community center staff kept the group informed as best they could. After nearly 15 minutes in the room, a worker came in and told them, "There's been a shooting in the parking lot between here and Sprint. We'll keep you on lockdown. You're safe here. The police are on top of the situation," Nessel said.

"That's what you want to hear, that we're safe," he said.

Later, someone explained to them the situation had been cleared up but said they had to stay a while longer while investigators combed the area for evidence. In all, they were locked down for approximately an hour and a half.