Thursday, June 11, 2009
Big John put his life on the line
From the Washington Post:
Colleagues called Stephen T. Johns "Big John," for he was well over 6 feet tall. But mostly friends recalled the security guard's constant courtesy and friendliness. A soft-spoken, gentle giant," said Milton Talley, a former employee of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, where Johns was killed yesterday in the line of duty -- shot, authorities said, by an avowed white supremacist who entered the museum with a rifle.
Details of the shooting remained sketchy last night, but apparently the 39-year-old, who was armed with a .38-caliber revolver, did not have time to react when James W. von Brunn walked into the museum, according to police sources.
"Immediately upon entering the front doors of the museum, he raised the rifle and started shooting," D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said of von Brunn, 88, adding that he "was engaged by security guards, and there was an exchange of gunfire."
When the smoke cleared, von Brunn was critically wounded. The only casualty among the guards was Johns, who lived in Prince George's County. At least one bullet from a small-caliber rifle hit Johns in his upper-left torso, according to Johns's employer, the Wackenhut security company.
"Two other . . . armed security officers opened fire with their service revolvers," the company said. "The intruder was hit at once" and wounded. Johns died at George Washington University Hospital.
"There are no words to express our grief and shock over these events," the museum said in a statement, describing Johns as "an outstanding colleague who greeted us every day with a smile."
Johns, a 1988 graduate of Crosslands High School in Temple Hills, lived in an apartment in the Temple Hills area. Friends said he had a son.
Allen Burcky, another former museum employee, said last night that workers there considered each other "like family" and that Johns was "very courteous, very helpful."
Wackenhut describes itself as the U.S. government's "largest contractor for professional security services." An official with the union that represents Wackenhut employees at the museum said Johns was paid about $20 an hour.
"It's a heavy loss," said Assane Faye, the Washington district director of the Security, Police and Fire Professionals of America.
Like other guards at the museum, on Raoul Wallenberg Place SW near the Mall, Johns underwent training for which he received the D.C. police designation of "special police officer," which permitted him to carry a revolver on duty.
Faye said that during contract negotiations with Wackenhut two years ago, the union pressed for company-issued protective vests. Although Wackenhut seemed open to the idea, vests have not been issued, Faye said. Authorities said Johns was not wearing a protective vest.
Susan Pitcher, a Wackenhut spokeswoman, declined to comment on the shooting beyond the company's statement.
William S. Parsons, the Holocaust museum's chief of staff, praised Johns and his colleagues. "Never take your guard force or your security people for granted," Parsons said. "They did exactly what they were supposed to do."
Grief, Shock After a ‘Gentle Giant’ Loses His Life in the Line of Duty
By Christian Davenport and Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, June 11, 2009