AURORA, Missouri — The killings of three people on the eve of Passover outside two Jewish facilities in a Kansas City suburb are being treated as hate crimes, law enforcement officials said on Monday.
Overland Park, Kan., Police Chief John Douglass and others confirmed that the evidence gathered on Sunday’s shootings support a hate crime presentation to a federal grand jury. State charges could also be sought, said state and federal prosecutors at a televised news conference.
Meanwhile, as President Barack Obama led a shocked nation in prayer after the deadly shootings, officials searched for clues about the 73-year-old man, believed to be a white supremacist and an anti-Semite, who is in jail in connection with the killings.
Frazier Glenn Cross, 73, is being held on a preliminary charge of first-degree murder after Sunday’s attacks in Overland Park. A doctor and his 14-year-old grandson were killed in the parking lot at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City and a woman was killed a short time later in a parking lot at Village Shalom, a nearby community for seniors, police said.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, identified the suspect as an avowed white supremacist who also used the name Frazier Glenn Miller. The center said Miller is considered a “raging anti-Semite” who was the former grand dragon of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, which he founded and ran in the 1980s before being sued by the law center for operating an illegal paramilitary organization and using intimidation tactics against African Americans.
Once the target of a national manhunt, he served three years in federal prison after being indicted on weapons charges and for plotting robberies and the assassination of Morris Dees, founder of the Poverty Center. As part of a plea bargain, Miller testified against other Klan leaders in a 1988 sedition trial.
Speaking at an Easter prayer breakfast at the White House, Obama condemned the attack and urged Americans to block violence against any religion.
“No one should ever have to fear for their safety when they go to pray,” Obama said. “It has no place in our society,” he added.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. earlier said his department would examine whether any federal crimes were violated.
“I was horrified to learn of this weekend’s tragic shootings outside Kansas City. These senseless acts of violence are all the more heartbreaking as they were perpetrated on the eve of the solemn occasion of Passover,” Holder said in a statement.
“Justice Department prosecutors will work with their state and local counterparts to provide all available support and to determine whether the federal hate crimes statute is implicated in this case.”
On Monday, a black sheriff’s SUV was parked in front of Cross’ home on a remote farm road in Aurora. The ranch house is surrounded by fields and pastures where cattle were grazing. Two black labs were running free in the yard, the garage door was open, a Confederate flag was in the corner.
Neighbors had different views of the suspect.
“He’s quite notorious around here,” said farmer Jack Ebert, who said he lives down the road from the man he knew as Miller. “He was very racist. I never had any contact with the man, but I know people who have. He didn’t like anyone who wasn’t like him. He was particularly racist against blacks, but it doesn’t surprise me that he attacked a Jewish center. It fits in with his mentality.”
Ebert said Cross lives on Farm Road 1220 not far from the village of Marionville, Mo., and keeps to himself. “He’s pretty much a lone duck,” he said of his neighbor. “He marches to a different tune.”
Neighbors said Cross’ son, Jesse Miller, was shot and killed in 2008 by police in nearby Marionville after approaching officers with a shotgun.
According to the Springfield News-Leader, Jesse Miller was driving his sport utility vehicle and was involved in an accident with a pickup truck just west of the city limits. Joseph M. Rich, 55, stopped his converted school bus to help the drivers and a woman riding in Miller’s vehicle, according to the Missouri Highway Patrol.
Jesse Miller pulled a 12-gauge shotgun from his vehicle and shot Rich, the patrol reported.
A few minutes later, Marionville Police Officer Andy Clark arrived and ordered Jesse Miller to put down his weapon. He then shot and wounded Clark, who returned fire with his AR-15 rifle and killed Miller, the patrol said.
“The father went around here for years saying that the cop shot his son in the back,” Ebert said. “We all knew that wasn’t true. The policeman told him to stop when he came at him with a shotgun.”
Mitzi Owens, 45, said she has lived next door to the family she knew as the Millers, across a fenced-off field, for almost two years, but did not see much of the suspect there. Her father-in-law owns the house where she’s staying, and she knows through him that the suspect and his family had lived there at least 14 years.
She said there was a son and daughter, who both attended Marionville High School. The daughter, Macy, was involved in sports and married a local boy, a student at a private Christian school.
She knows the suspect from the pharmacy in Aurora where she works as a pharmacy tech. She said Miller would come in weekly to pick up prescriptions.
She described Miller as “a real Southern gentleman” who still had an accent.
“You would know he was in the room because he would be there saying, ‘Hey ladies!’” she said.
“He was very complimentary to us,” said Owens, who is white.
She said the suspect never mentioned white supremacy to her. He criticized Obamacare, she said, but no more than other pharmacy patrons frustrated with their health insurance.
Owens grew up in Marionville, a farm and dairy town without any local synagogues, Jewish community or people of color, she said.
She and others knew of the suspect’s white supremacist beliefs, and that he had run for office.
“I have heard of the man and what he stands for. I had heard of his writings because he throws them in people’s driveways,” Owens said, although she said she never received one.
“People would be upset about it and throw them in the trash,” she said of the writings.
“Any time anybody brought up his name, it was, ‘He’s the one who wrote those articles,’’’ she said.
She said the area does have some white supremacists.
“I’m not going to be stupid about it — I knew it was around here,” she said, but added that, “the majority of people in town, it’s full of love and compassion.”
“I hate what he did,” Owens said of the shooting.
“It just shows people can be the most pleasant people to be around and you would never guess the hate in their heart,” she said.
Police said the attacks started around 1 p.m. on Sunday when the gunman shot two people in the parking lot behind the Jewish Community Center. He then drove a few blocks away to a retirement community, Village Shalom, and killed a woman there, Douglass said. Officers arrested him in an elementary school parking lot a short time later.
Police said the attacks at both sites happened outside and the gunman never entered any buildings. Douglass said the gunman also shot at two other people during the attacks, but missed.
The family of the first two victims released a statement identifying two of the victims as Dr. William Lewis Corporan, who died at the scene, and his 14-year-old grandson, Reat Griffin Underwood, who died at Overland Park Regional Medical Center.
They were both Christian, and were attending a singing contest at the center. The woman shot at the seniors’ home has yet to be identified.
Speaking at St. Thomas the Apostle Episcopal Church just hours after the shootings, the daughter of the slain doctor and mother of the boy stood up and simply said: “My name is Mindy Corporan… “”I’m in shock,” she said from the podium. “But I want you know I appreciate you all being here.”
“I just wanted to tell people thank you, I want you to know that I came upon the scene very, very quickly, I was there before the police, and I was there before the ambulance, and I knew immediately that they were in heaven. And I know that they’re in heaven together.”