Jewish community-centre murders suspect due in US court

Frazier Glenn Cross, Jr, 73, charged with shooting dead three people during Passover festivities, near Kansas City

Police at Village Shalom Jewish retirement community, in Overland Park. Photograph: Ed Zurga/EPA

Police at Village Shalom Jewish retirement community, in Overland Park. Photograph: Ed Zurga/EPA

A suspect in the shooting dead of three people at two Jewish community centres in the Kansas City area is to appear in court on Monday to face murder charges.

Police said it was too early to determine if Sunday’s killings, which took place on the eve of the Jewish holiday of Passover, were motivated by anti-Semitism, but a leading anti-hate group said the suspect was a former senior member of the Ku Klux Klan.

“We know it’s a vicious act of violence. Obviously two Jewish facilities, one might make that assumption,” police chief John Douglass told a news conference.

The victims included a 14-year-old boy. Authorities in Kansas identified the suspect as Frazier Glenn Cross, Jr, 73.

The Southern Poverty Law Centre, which monitors hate groups, said Cross was once the grand dragon of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. It said his wife had told the centre on Sunday that police informed her Cross had been arrested.

Douglass said he could not confirm reports from witnesses that the suspect had yelled “heil Hitler” from the back of a police car after being taken into custody, but video posted on YouTube by local television stations appeared to confirm that. “The suspect in the back of a car made several statements,” Douglass said. “We are sifting through those.” The FBI had been called in to help with the investigation.

The shootings started around 1pm at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Kansas City, in Overland Park. Two males were shot in a parking lot outside , one dying at the scene and the other at a hospital later, police said.

The shooter then drove a mile to the Village Shalom retirement community and fatally shot a woman there. The male victims were identified in a family statement as Reat Griffin Underwood, 14, and his grandfather, Dr William Corporon. Both were members of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection.

Underwood was an Eagle Scout who loved camping and hunting, the family statement said. Dr Corporon had moved to the Kansas City area in 2003 to be closer to his grandchildren.

Barack Obama offered condolences. “While we do not know all of the details … the initial reports are heartbreaking,” Obama said in a statement.

The Jewish Community Centre was a hub of activity on Sunday, with several youth groups meeting and people auditioning for a music production. Many non-Jewish people regularly join the facility’s activities.

“The thought of something like that happening is terrifying,” said David Wainestock, who rushed to the community centre to retrieve his 16-year-old daughter, who had been among the people temporarily locked down. “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 Passover holiday when he heard the news of the shooting. “Everybody is shocked that it would happen here. This is a community that enjoys very strong and positive relations between the Jewish community and the rest of the community.”

The Guardian