Overland Park, Kansas - Three people, including a 14-year-old boy, were killed on Sunday at two different Jewish community facilities in a Kansas City-area suburb, and a man was in custody as police investigated whether the shootings were anti-Semitic, authorities said.
Police said it was too early to determine a motive, but they were not ruling out the possibility that the shootings were a hate crime.
“We know it's a vicious act of violence. Obviously two Jewish facilities, one might make that assumption,” Overland Park Police Chief John Douglass said in a news conference. The FBI has been called in to help with the investigation, he said.
The shootings started around 1pm at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Kansas City in Overland Park, Kansas. Two males were shot in a parking lot outside the Centre, one dying at the scene and the other later at a hospital, police said.
The shooter then drove about 1.6km to the Village Shalom retirement community that provides skilled nursing services for residents and fatally shot a female there, Douglass said.
The two male victim were a 14-year-old high school freshman and his grandfather, according to Glen Shoup, an executive pastor at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, where the two were members. The church announced their deaths in services on Sunday evening.
Two other people were shot at, but not hit, the police chief said. He said it appears the shooter used a shotgun and possibly other types of guns.
The suspect, a bearded white man in his 70s, was taken into custody in the parking lot of a nearby elementary school, Douglass said. The police chief declined to identify the suspect, but said he was not from Kansas.
Douglass said he could not confirm reports from witnesses that the suspect had yelled “Heil Hitler” while in the back of the squad car after being taken into custody.
“The suspect in the back of a car made several statements,” Douglass said. “We are sifting through and vetting those for accuracy, number one, and number two we are looking at them for their evidentiary value.”
President Barack Obama offered condolences. “While we do not know all of the details... the initial reports are heartbreaking,” he said in a statement.
The Jewish Community Centre, which is also the site of Kansas City's only Jewish community day school, the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy, was a hub of activity on Sunday.
Several youth groups were meeting, some people were auditioning in the facility's theatre for a music production, people were exercising in the centre's gym, and the academy was preparing for a school dance. Many non-Jewish people regularly participate in the facility's activities.
Bailey Wainestock, 16, was one of nine teenagers attending a youth organisation meeting at the community centre when the shooting took place. They barricaded the door and remained locked in for more than an hour until security officers rushed them out.
“We didn't know what to think, we were all in shock,” Wainestock told Reuters.
The situation was traumatic, said her father, David Wainestock, who rushed to the Jewish Centre to retrieve her.
“The thought of something like that happening is terrifying. In the Midwest we think we're safe from this type of thing. But I guess it doesn't make any difference now.”
Rabbi David Glickman, of the Beth Shalom synagogue in Overland Park, was at home preparing for the Jewish Passover holiday when he heard the news of the shooting.
“Everybody is shocked that it would happen here,” said Glickman. “This is a community that enjoys very strong and positive relations between the Jewish community and the rest of the community.”
The Kansas City area has a Jewish community of about 20 000. - Reuters