The suspect in the Passover Eve killings of three people at two Jewish community centres in the Kansas City area was scheduled to appear in court on Monday to face murder charges.
Police said it was too early to determine if Sunday’s killings were motivated by anti-Semitism, but a leading anti-hate group said the suspect was a former senior member of the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan movement.
“We know it’s a vicious act of violence. Obviously two Jewish facilities, one might make that assumption,” Overland Park 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, Junior, 73.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, 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 in connection with the shootings.
Cross was being held on suspicion of premeditated murder in the first degree and was to appear in court on Monday afternoon, according to jail records.
The shootings, which took place on the eve of the Jewish holiday of Passover, started around 1pm at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City in Overland Park. Two males were shot in a parking lot outside the centre, one dying at the scene and the other at a hospital later, police said.
The shooter then drove a 1.6km away to the Village Shalom retirement community and fatally shot a woman there, Douglass said.
The male victims were identified as Reat Griffin Underwood, 14, a high school freshman, and his grandfather, Dr William Corporon, family member Will Corporon said in a statement. Both were members of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection.
Underwood was an Eagle Scout who loved camping and hunting, Corporon said. Dr Corporon had moved to the Kansas City area in 2003 to be closer to his grandchildren.
Douglass said he could not confirm reports from witnesses that the suspect had yelled “Heil Hitler” from the back of a squad 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.
It appeared the gunman had used a shotgun and possibly other firearms, he said.
President 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 Center, which is also the site of Kansas City’s only Jewish community day school, the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy, was a hub of activity on Sunday.
Several youth groups were meeting, people were auditioning for a music production and the academy was preparing for a school dance. 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 Jewish Community Center 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 Jewish Passover holiday when he heard the news of the shooting.
“Everybody is shocked that it would happen here,” said Glickman. “This is a community that enjoys very strong and positive relations between the Jewish community and the rest of the community.”
The Kansas City area’s Jewish community numbers about 20,000.