(RNS) A shotgun-wielding gunman opened fire at two Jewish sites in suburban Kansas City Sunday, killing three people and shocking an otherwise peaceful community.
Police arrested a suspect shortly after the separate shootings but have not released his name or the names of the victims. The shootings occurred at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City, which is located in Overland Park, about 11 miles south of Kansas City, and at Village Shalom, a retirement home located nearby, Overland Park Police Chief John Douglass said at a press conference Sunday.
“We’re investigating it as a hate crime, we’re investigating it as a murder,” said Douglass, flanked by a representative of the Kansas City FBI office and prosecutors.
The suspect — in his 70s, bearded and not from Kansas — first went to the Jewish Community Center and opened fire at people in the parking lot in front of the Lewis and Shirley White Theatre, located in the back area of the center, he said. Two males were killed there: one died immediately and the other died from his wounds at an area hospital, Douglass said.
The gunfire erupted at the community center as hundreds of high school singers from across the metro area were readying to audition for the KC SuperStar contest and actors were rehearsing for a production of To Kill a Mockingbird, according to the Kansas City Star.
Minutes later, police received a call of shots fired at Village Shalom. One woman was found dead there, also in the parking lot, Douglass said.
The suspect fired at two other people but missed and they were unharmed, he said. The gunman used a shotgun to kill his victims at the Jewish Community Center and may have used a handgun when firing at the targets he missed, Douglass said. He said he didn’t know which weapon was used at the retirement home.
After the shootings, police blanketed the area and found the suspect in the parking lot of a nearby elementary school, where he was arrested. Police investigators are looking at several things found in the suspect’s car that could be used as evidence, Douglass said. He would not say what those items were.
There were no known prior threats to the community center and it did not appear the shooter knew his victims, Douglass said. The shootings took the community by surprise, he said.
“This was, unfortunately, totally unexpected,” Douglass said. “If we had the slightest hint it was going to happen we would have done everything we could to stop it.”
On its Facebook page, the Jewish Community Center sent condolences to the victims’ families and reiterated that no shots were fired inside the community center. The center was going to be closed Monday.
“Again, our hearts go out to all those affected and touched by this terrible tragedy,” it said.
(Rick Jervis writes for USA Today. )
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Video courtesy of KansasCityStarVideo via YouTube