This one hit too close to home

On Wednesday morning, 39-year-old Stephen Tyrone Johns woke up and put on his uniform, carefully placing his hat and tightly lacing his boots. He probably rode the Metro to work that morning, with his mind occupied on the mundane details of his life--What do I have to do this weekend? What's for lunch in the cafeteria at work today? Should I switch to satelliet?

The Metro doors opened at Smithsonian Station and Johns stepped off. He entered the Holocaust Memorial Museum--1 1/2 blocks from where I work--and took his post at the front-door security checkpoint. It was a day just like any other. Except it wasn't.

Johns watched as tourists passed through the metal detectors and he searched their bags carefully following protocol. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Suddenly, around 1 p.m. a man walked through the front doors of the museum wielding a rifle. He opened fire in the crowded vestibule. BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! Five or six shots are fired, Johns has been shot. The wound is fatal. Just like that a man's life is over.

My recount of Johns' morning before the shooting is pure speculation, but the details of his tragic death are not. This man woke up and went to work, just like he would on any other day, except this time he didn't make it home.

The shooter was an 88-year-old anti-Semitic, white supremacist. He shot up the Holocaust Memorial Museum to show the world his hate for Jews. For my people. My family. Me.

Writings attributed to the gunman on the Internet say the Holocaust was a hoax and decry a Jewish conspiracy to "destroy the white gene pool." Reading these words make my mouth go dry, my head throb and my eyes fill with tears.

I have relatives who are Holocaust survivors and had relatives who were not so lucky. My great grandfather was believed to have been murdered by the Nazis. My grandfather Max spent his entire adulthood searching for answers, but his father's body was never found. My grandfather's brother, Bernard, can recount horrific tales of Jews being shot point-blank in the head by Nazi soldiers right in public. My great aunt Sarah almost died of starvation in a ghetto in Poland and narrowly escaped death by assuming a false identity.

To deny the Holocaust is to deny my family history and to devalue my loved ones' pain and suffering.

After this tragic event, this disgusting hate crime, I feel an array of dizzying emotions from anger and fear to guilt and a sense of responsibility.

I am angry at those who hold hate in their hearts and have no respect for the life.
I am afraid that something like this could happen "in my own backyard."
I feel guilty for all the times someone has used "Jew" as a derogatory term in front of me while I stood silent instead of standing up for myself and my people.
I feel a sense of responsibility to share my family's story, to let people know that the Holocaust was real. The people who died was real. The emotional scars left on the survivors and their families are real. I am real.


  1. I am so sorry. This is an awful tragedy. I can't understand people that can hate like that. It saddens me.

  2. I spent the past week working at a convention of a Jewish youth group, where these teenagers were incredibly proud to be Jewish. I heard about the shooting right after I left the convention, and there was such a disconnect between the positive message of these kids and their strong connection to their culture and this incredibly negative anti-Semitic act committed at the Holocaust museum.

    It never ceases to shock me that people can have such a strong hatred for an entire group of people based solely on their religion and culture. We would hope that people would have learned from the mistakes of the past, but it saddens me to think that this type of hate is still out there in full force.

    It was a tragic act of violence that hits close to home for me, but it also makes me think that it is unfortunate that similar hate crimes against other groups are not always treated with as much respect and attention. Recent acts of hate speech or hate crimes against Muslims and gay Americans unfortunately have not always warranted the same deserved response of outrage from the media. I hope people can take from this a renewed commitment to combating acts of senseless violence against any group of people, regardless of the current political climate.

  3. I was driving home on Wednesday from Philly, when this news broke over the radio (I always listen to AM talk radio when I drive by myself) and I immediately thought of you. Not just because you work and live in the area, but how close this would personally touch you. I am sorry. This is so incredibly horrific in this day and age, pure evil. Big cyber hugs!

  4. Brilliantly written. You are real. Speak up for you and your family. I hate that this happened and am shocked that even now.....such hate exists. Wonder if our children will think the same thing in 30-40 years?

  5. This was a shocking story for me as well. While I don't have any jewish ties, it still saddens me taht there is this much hatred in the world. I am sorry your family members had to go through this and are now being treated as if they went through nothing at all. My family was on the other side of this war. My great grandfather came to the states before Hitler took power, but had he not he probably would have been part of the Nazi movement. Not by choice but by necessity. It sickens me to even think that. My thoughts are with all those that knew Johns, your family that went through that horrible tragedy, and with you. Be proud of who you are and always stick up for your heritage, family, and beliefs.

  6. this is a wonderful post. I still can't get over this, and the slaying of the doctor who provided late term abortions.

    The amount of hate in the world has me stunned.

  7. I had not heard about this, It is so sad to think that people can hold so much hatred. I will never be able to understand how people can hate someone because of race, religion, orientation, or culture.

  8. Good post, thank you for sharing this. What happened was incredibly sad, and it sucks that people still have so much hate in them these days... :(

  9. i like the way you spoke about the mans morning. its so easy for us to hear about shootings or tragedies and forget that those people are simply humans just like us. the media runs it all out like it is nothing. i'm very sorry. i cannot believe there are people out there with that much hate in their heart who over such a huge amount of time cannot simply let things go. hate that has no basis. i try to get my hopes up for this world.. but so many times i get let down. of course, my prayers are with everyone involved in that horrible tragedy.

  10. Thank you for writing about Johns and making him real for people. This shooting was horrific and disgusting and I cannot believe that shit like this is still occuring in our world. When is racism going to die out?! Its time people!!!

  11. Thank you so much for sharing your heart in this post.
    It's not often that the news makes me cry (perhaps I've become desensitized to it all), but when I heard about this story it just broke my heart. My grandfather fought in WW2, but it wasn't until living in Europe for a time and seeing the aftermath that it became *real* to me. Every morning when I would leave for school I would exit the building and hear the shouts and laughter of the children playing at the elementary school across the street.
    A few weeks after I moved in, I noticed a small plaque on the wall of the school. Curious, I read it. It was a plaque honoring the hundreds of Jewish children who were taken from the school during the war and never returned.
    It's a little thing, but it completely changed me.
    I think that we assume that because so much time has passed the world has changed entirely. I'm so saddened by this story, because it's proof that the world hasn't changed as much as we would hope.

  12. I really appreciate everyone's insightful comments. Thanks so much for listening (reading) and for sharing your own thoughts. You have all helped me gain a better understanding of my own feelings about this tragic event.

  13. Hi. I'm a couple days late, but wanted to say that this was a great post. It's the first thing I've read where anyone affected has responded....and you did it brilliantly. I, too, don't understand how people can deny something like the Holocaust. It changed so many people's lives forever. I'm sending you a hug!

  14. That was a horrible day. I couldn't believe it when that happened. What a beautiful, powerful post you've written here, though.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, SITSta.