By Nafeesa Syeed
WASHINGTON — A security guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum who was fatally shot Wednesday was described as a warm man with a wonderful smile who acted courageously when the gunman opened fire in the building.
The gunman exchanged fire with guards, including 39-year-old Stephen T. Johns of Temple Hills, Md., who died at a Washington hospital from his injuries, police said. Authorities have said 88-year-old James W. von Brunn, a white supremacist, was under investigation in the shooting.
Sara Bloomfield, director of the museum, described Johns as "a great friend who greeted us every day with a wonderful smile, and he will be missed."
"Obviously, there are no words to express our grief and shock," she said.
Johns, a 1988 graduate of Crossland High School in Maryland, worked for Wackenhut Services Inc., based in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., that has contracted security services at the museum since 2002, according to a company statement. Johns had been posted at the museum since joining the firm in 2003. The museum has about 70 officers and supervisors on the force.
Guards are armed with .38-caliber revolvers and dress in police-type uniforms, the company said. It said preliminary details indicate the officers responded appropriately when facing the gunman, who opened fire with a rifle.
The president and others commended the work of Johns and the other guards.
"We have lost a courageous security guard who stood watch at this place of solemn remembrance," President Barack Obama said in a statement. "My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends in this painful time."
D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty also had words of praise.
"The men and women in uniform who put their lives on the line to ensure our safety are truly heroes, and I am deeply saddened that this senseless act of violence threatened the safety of our community," Fenty said in a statement.
Bill Parsons, chief of staff at the museum, said Johns and other guards "did exactly what they were supposed to do to protect people at the museum."
"Never take your guard force and security people for granted," he said.
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Copyright 2009 Associated Press