The assailant was hospitalized in critical condition, leaving behind a sprawling investigation by federal and local law enforcement and expressions of shock from the Israeli government and a prominent Muslim organization.
Washington Police Chief Cathy Lanier (web | news | bio) said the gunman was "engaged by security guards immediately after entering the door" with a rifle. "The second he stepped into the building he began firing."
Museum officials identified the dead guard as Stephen T. Johns, a six-year veteran of the facility. In an e-mail, director Sara Bloomfield said he "died heroically in the line of duty."
James Von Brunn, 88
Investigators surround the red Volkswagen sources identified as belonging to the suspected gunman.
The museum was crowded with school children and other tourists at the time of the attack, but they all escaped injury in the outburst of violence.
|Kris Van Cleave reports from the G.W. Univ. Hospital.|
Ashley Camp, 14, of Forsyth, Ill., on a field trip with more than 40 other students, said she heard two or three gunshots. Soon after, she recalled, a security guard ordered the group to run to the exit.
"We had to sprint as fast as we could out the door," she said. "I thought it was the movie (part of a museum exhibit), but then everyone started screaming and running."
The attack was the third in a recent wave of unsettling shootings that appeared to have political underpinnings.
A 23-year-old Army private, William Andrew Long, was shot and killed outside a recruiting office this month in Arkansas and a fellow soldier was wounded. The suspect, a Muslim convert, has said he considers the killing justified because of the U.S. military presence in the Middle East.
Late last month, abortion provider Dr. George Tiller was shot to death in his church.
At the White House a few blocks away from the museum, press secretary Robert Gibbs said he informed President Barack Obama (web | news | bio) of the events and the chief executive was "obviously saddened by what has happened."
Only last week, Obama visited the site of a German concentration camp at Buchenwald in Germany where he noted, "There are those who insist the Holocaust never happened." He added, "This place is the ultimate rebuke to such thoughts, a reminder of our duty to confront those who would tell lies about our history."
In a statement from Israel's government, Information and Diaspora Minister Yuli Edelstein said the shooting was "further proof that anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial have not passed from the world."
And the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a prominent American Muslim organization, said in a statement, "We condemn this apparent bias-motivated attack and stand with the Jewish community and with Americans of all faiths in repudiating the kind of hatred and intolerance that can lead to such disturbing incidents."
Within minutes after the attack, federal agents were dispatched to von Brunn's home in Annapolis, Md., to check his computer. FBI (web) sources tell ABC7's Brad Bell that von Brunn was living in the home with his son and his son's girlfriend. One neighbor, an African American woman who didn't want to be identified, told Brad Bell that the residents of the apartment were the only people in the complex who didn't speak to her. She said one snowy day she left her apartment to find a racial slur traced into the snow on her vehicle.
Sources also say von Brunn had been staying at the Holiday Inn on Wisconsin Avenue in the District for the past two days.
Joseph Persichini, assistant director in charge of the Washington FBI field office, said the shootings were being investigated as a possible hate crime or a case of domestic terrorism.
According to a relative, von Brunn attended Washington University in St. Louis and is an artist.
He was commissioned as a naval officer decades ago, and discharged from the Navy in 1956. A cousin, Virginia Gerker of St. Louis, said in an interview she hadn't seen him in 50 years. She said her family had "disowned" him, believing him to be mentally ill.
About a dozen years ago, he applied to have his art shown at a gallery in Easton, Md., according to two of the owners. Laura Era and Jennifer Wharton said they rejected his work and he stomped out.
Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center said von Brunn's Web site has long been listed as a hate site.
The Rev. David Ostendorf, executive director of Center for a New Community in Chicago, a national civil rights group, said von Brunn has described in his own writings a long relationship with Willis Carto, founder of the Liberty Lobby, the Spotlight Newspaper and a well-known white supremacist and anti-semite.
By Associated Press Writers NAFEESA SYEED and DAVID ESPO and ABC 7 News
Associated Press reporters Brian Witte in Annapolis, Md., Sarah Brumfield and Aaron Morrison in Baltimore, and Lolita Baldor, Devlin Barrett, Ted Bridis, Eileen Sullivan, Barry Schweid and Brett Zonger in Washington contributed to this report.