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Kansas Shootings Investigated As A Hate Crime


A man, a woman and a teenager were shot dead at two separate Jewish centers near Kansas City yesterday. A single gunman with deep ties to white supremacist groups is believed to be responsible for the killings, which happened on the eve of the Jewish Passover holiday. Law enforcement officials say they're treating the shootings as hate crimes. Laura Ziegler, of member station KCUR, reports.

LAURA ZIEGLER, BYLINE: The Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City is in Overland Park, Kansas, a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri. The sprawling center hosts a variety of activities - many for Jews, but many not. Yesterday afternoon, some seniors there were playing cards. Other patrons were working out at the fitness center. And 15-year-old Avery Gray was taking part in a dance competition.

AVERY GRAY: We were going to walk outside, and there were people ducked underneath tables. And they were yelling at us to get inside the theater. We didn't know why. We thought at first that it was, like, weather, because there were so many, like, severe thunderstorms. But then in, like, a little bit, we found out that it was a shooting.

ZIEGLER: Overland Park Police Chief John Douglass says witnesses saw a gunman shoot at five people, missing two of them. The doors to the community center were also badly shot up. Douglass says a hate crime investigation is likely.

JOHN DOUGLASS: We know it's a vicious act of violence. Obviously, two Jewish facilities, one might make that assumption, but we're going to have to know more about it before we label it.

ZIEGLER: That second shooting took place shortly after the first, at the Village Shalom Retirement Home a few blocks south of the community center. There, the shooter killed a woman in the parking lot. Within minutes, police apprehended a suspect at a neighborhood elementary school, a white man with a beard in his early 70s identified in police reports as Frazier Glenn Cross. Standing near his home across from that school, 13-year-old Noah Davis watched as a white sedan authorities believe belonged to Cross was being towed from the parking lot. Davis was shopping for his bar mitzvah suit when he heard the news of the shooting, and he raced home to see police putting the suspect in handcuffs. He says the tragedy presents new worries for everyone.

NOAH DAVIS: Before I was just nervous that, like, I wouldn't learn anything. And now I'm just nervous because, like, what if someone, like, comes in and, like, threatens us?

ZIEGLER: Two of the dead after yesterday's shootings at the Jewish Community Center are not Jewish. Rabbi Mark Levin of Temple Beth Torah says there will be an interfaith memorial service for all the victims on Wednesday. And as this Jewish holiday of Passover begins, the rabbi says Jews everywhere will be meditating on the culture of hate.

RABBI MARK LEVIN: And we really do need to take a moment to remember what a plague this is on all of our lives.

ZIEGLER: The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate crime, says the alleged shooter has been associated with white supremacist activity. For NPR News, I'm Laura Ziegler, in Kansas City.

MCEVERS: The Southern Poverty Law Center says Frazier Glenn Cross is an alias for Frazier Glenn Miller. He's a former grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, and an outspoken anti-Semite. The Center says they reached Miller's wife by phone, and that she confirmed it was her husband who was arrested for the shootings. The Overland Park police will hold a press conference in an hour. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Laura Ziegler began her career at KCUR as a reporter more than 20 years ago. She became the news director in the mid 1980's and in 1988, went to National Public Radio in Washington, D.C. as a producer for Weekend Edition Saturday with Scott Simon.

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