Stephen Tyrone Johns was a security guard at the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC who was killed when a neo-Nazi gunman stormed the building. Stephen put himself into the line of fire to save the lives of hundreds of museum visitors and staff.
Known for his outgoing personality and warm smile, Stephen graduated from high school in Maryland and trained as an armed security guard with Wackenhut Services Inc. He began working at the Holocaust Museum in 2003. Six years later, on the afternoon of June 10, 2009, he was shot by an 88-year-old member of the Aryan Nation with a decades-long criminal record for burglary, assault, possession of illegal weapons and attempted kidnapping. The killer’s rage-filled internet posts were being monitored by anti-hate crime groups, but because there had been no specific threat, there was nothing they could do.
The murderer was known to be consumed with hatred for Blacks and Jews, and was apparently enraged by President Barack Obama’s June 5 visit to the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany. Four days later he entered the Holocaust Museum and was greeted by Officer Stephen Johns with his customary smile and warm greeting. The killer returned Stephen’s friendly welcome by pulling out a .22 caliber rifle. Stephen immediately stepped into the line of fire, saving the lives of countless others at the museum that day. Two other officers, Harry Weeks and Jason “Mac” McCuiston, immediately exchanged fire with the attacker, shooting him in the face. Stephen Johns was sill alive but died soon after at a hospital in Washington DC. He was 39 years old and left behind a wife, son and two stepsons. The American Jewish Committee established a memorial fund for the Johns family.
Ironically, at the time of the shooting, a play called “Anne and Emmett” was premiering at the museum. The play depicted an imaginary conversation between two teenagers – Anne Frank, killed by the Nazis, and Emmett Till, killed by a white racist in the Jim Crow south.
Two days after Stephen Johns’ tragic murder, the Jewish community of Washington DC led a prayer vigil to honor him, attended by over a hundred people of different faiths, including ambassadors from Israel and Germany. President Obama issued a statement, saying “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 time.”
The Holocaust Memorial Museum established the Stephen Tyrone Johns Summer Leadership Program, which provides 50 outstanding high school students from the Washington DC area an intensive educational internship at the Museum each summer. More than 850 students from 120 schools have participated in the program, which trains them to be leaders in their communities, teaching tolerance and combatting ignorance and hate. For more information about the program, visit: https://www.ushmm.org/outreach-programs/students/stephen-tyrone-johns-summer-youth-leadership
For putting his life on the line to ensure the safety of U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum visitors and staff, we honor Special Police Officer Stephen Tyrone Johns as this week’s Thursday Hero.
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