By Carey Gillam
OVERLAND PARK, Kansas (Reuters) – The suspect in the Passover Eve killings of three people at two Jewish facilities near Kansas City is a former Ku Klux Klan leader with a history of hatred for Jews, law enforcement officials said on Monday.
Frazier Glenn Cross, 73, faces local and federal prosecution on hate crime charges after his arrest on Sunday for a shooting spree that killed a teenager and his grandfather outside a Jewish community center, and a woman visiting her mother at a nearby Jewish retirement home.
Both facilities are in Overland Park, Kansas, an upscale suburb outside Kansas City, Missouri. None of the victims was Jewish. The boy and his grandfather were members of an area Methodist church and the woman attended a Catholic church.
Cross, of Aurora, Missouri, had a criminal history and was known by law enforcement and human rights groups as a former senior member of the KKK movement and someone who had long made public comments against Jewish people, according to the FBI.
“Yesterday’s attack … strikes at the core fundamental freedoms … of how our country was founded and what we live by every single day,” said FBI agent Michael Kaste.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a leading anti-hate group, has tracked Cross, who also goes by the name Frazier Glenn Miller, for years. The group said he was involved in creating an armed paramilitary organization in North Carolina 20 years ago and is a “raging anti-Semite” who has posted online commentaries that state “No Jews, Just Right” along with calls to “exterminate the Jews.”
Cross is a former leader of both the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and the White Patriot Party, groups aimed at the unification of white people, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. He served time in prison on weapons charges and for making threats through the mail, the group said.
The Anti-Defamation League said Cross was one of the “more notorious white supremacists” in the United States in the early 1980s, though his involvement over the last decade has been on the periphery of the white supremacist movement.
The league issued a security bulletin to U.S. synagogues and Jewish communal institutions urging them to review security plans for the Passover holiday that started at sundown.
The shootings started around 1 p.m. at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City.
High school student Reat Griffin Underwood, 14, was with his grandfather, 69-year-old William Corporon, outside the Jewish Community Center when they both were attacked. The teenager was at the center to audition for a singing competition, according to his mother Mindy Corporon Losen.
Both suffered head wounds. The grandfather died at the scene and the boy died later at a hospital, police said.
In a press conference Monday, Losen recounted the last moments she saw her son alive. The boy was excited to be auditioning for the vocal competition and sang two songs for his mother before he left for the community center. One song was “You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone,” Losen said.
Losen herself drove to the community center later to try to see her son, not knowing anything had happened. She arrived just moments after the shooter had fled and found her father dead on the ground beside his truck and her fatally wounded son lying in the arms of strangers who were trying to help keep the boy alive.
“It was very unreal and no one should have to go through that,” she said. “It didn’t feel like a crime scene to me. It was my family.”
The third victim was killed a little more than a mile away outside the Village Shalom retirement community. Terri LaManno, 53, was making a regular visit to her mother who lived at the retirement facility when she was shot, police said. LaManno was an occupational therapist and married mother of two children, police said.
It appeared the gunman had used a shotgun and possibly other firearms, police said.
FBI agent Kaste said his agency had been aware of Cross and his background but was not monitoring him and had no warnings of the attacks. He said that it did not matter that the victims were not Jewish because hate crime violations are tied to the biases and beliefs of the suspect, not the identities of the victims.
The Jewish Community Center, known locally as “The J” is a popular recreational and educational spot for many families throughout the area, Jewish or not. It is also the site of Kansas City’s only Jewish community day school, the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy.
“It was a horrible act of violence,” said Losen. But “we want something good to come out of this. We don’t know what that is going to be.”
The family is waiting to hear if Reat’s tissue and organs are suitable for donation, she said.
“He was with us for a wonderful 14 years. We were very blessed,” Losen said.
(Reporting by Kevin Murphy in Kansas City and Carey Gillam in Overland Park; Additional reporting by Curtis Skinner and Chris Michaud in New York; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, John Stonestreet, Tom Brown, Andrew Hay and Lisa Shumaker)
[Image: Frazier Glenn Cross, 73, of Aurora, Missouri, is led to a police car after his arrest following shooting incidents which killed three people at two Jewish centers on Sunday in Overland Park, south of Kansas City, Kansas in a still image from video April 13, 2014. REUTERS/KCTV5/Handout via Reuters]