Two people were shot at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday when a gunman opened fire on the building sparking panic in the heart of the capital's tourist area, officials and witnesses said.
Sergeant David Schlosser, a spokesman for the U.S. Park Police, said a gunman entered the museum and fired, and security guards returned fire. He said he believed one of the security guards was shot.
According to U.S. media the gunman was an 88-year-old man with links to the white supremacist movement.
But in a hastily convened press conference at the scene, neither Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty nor the city's police chief Cathy Lanier would confirm the gunman's identity.
"It appears to be a lone gunman who entered into the museum and opened fire with what appears to be a rifle at this point," said Lanier. "We have no confirmation on any identity. That's going to take a little bit of time."
It appears to be a lone gunman who entered into the museum and opened fire with what appears to be a rifle at this point
Police chief Cathy Lanier
Stephanie Geraghty, 28, who had been visiting the museum, said the shooter appeared to be a white male carrying a silver gun.
"I heard the first shot, it sounded like something had been dropped from the upper stories down," she told Reuters. "The next two came really fast -- bam bam. At that point everyone took off, chaos, running."
The FBI said it had dispatched its National Capital Response Squad, which deals with such emergencies in the Washington area, to the site. Television pictures showed a heavy police presence outside the museum.
The next two came really fast -- bam bam. At that point everyone took off, chaos, running
Witness Stephanie Geraghty
The shooting, which happened blocks from the White House, prompted President Barack Obama to issue a statement expressing his dismay at the shootings and underscoring the importance of the museum to fighting predjudice.
“Today, we have lost a courageous security guard who stood watch at this place of solemn remembrance. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends in this painful timem,” said Obama in a statement. “This outrageous act reminds us that we must remain vigilant against anti-Semitism and prejudice in all its forms."
Today, we have lost a courageous security guard who stood watch at this place of solemn remembrance
President Barack Obama