Skip to main content

Officers recall horror of Holocaust Memorial Museum shooting

  • Story Highlights
  • Security officers Harry Weeks and Jason McCuiston recall shooting, fellow officer
  • When they heard shots at museum, they knew something had gone terribly wrong
  • They call slain officer a "gentle giant" who was always friendly to colleagues, visitors
  • Men, who shot shooting suspect, say they're not heroes, were just doing their jobs
By Ed Henry
CNN Senior White House Correspondent
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- When shots rang out at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum last week, security officers Harry Weeks and Jason McCuiston were stunned.

The museum is near the National Mall and just a few blocks from the White House.

Harry Weeks, left, and Jason McCuiston fired on James von Brunn at the Holocaust Memorial Museum.

"I would say it was surreal, both of us couldn't believe what was happening," Weeks told CNN in his first national televised interview since the June 10 shooting. "I know myself I just, I heard 'pop, pop' and it was surreal."

McCuiston added: "It wasn't normal. You knew something was wrong and you knew it was very bad."

What went terribly wrong is that white supremacist James von Brunn allegedly walked into the museum and started firing his rifle, shooting security officer Stephen Johns in the chest.

Despite their initial shock, Weeks and McCuiston kept their composure enough to draw their weapons and start shooting at von Brunn, 88.

Weeks had fired his gun in the line of duty 25 years earlier as a Washington, D.C., police officer. But he said nothing compared to this bloody confrontation.

"This was terrible," Weeks said softly. "This was worse. ... We lost Officer Johns."

Johns died shortly after the shooting, leaving behind a family that includes a teenage son who told CNN affiliate WUSA-TV the day after the tragedy that his dad was "my hero."

Watching a video clip of those comments, McCuiston started crying. "First thing I thought about, I have an 11-year-old," the officer said before breaking down. Video Watch the officers tell their story »

Just moments before their joint interview with CNN on Thursday, McCuiston and Weeks attended a grief counseling session together, and both men say they are still struggling with their emotions.

The security officers said they believe von Brunn will survive his wounds and eventually face trial. So they would not discuss details of the shootout out of a fear of jeopardizing the criminal investigation, but they were willing to discuss their memories of Johns so that the public knows more about him.

McCuiston said the 6-foot-6-inch, 300-pound Johns was a "gentle giant" who was always friendly to colleagues and museum visitors. "Just an awesome guy," he recalled. "Grin from ear to ear. You'd never know that man probably ever had a bad day in his life."

Weeks said he wanted the world to see "what a man of hate did to this family, and the grief he caused. Let's all remember Officer Johns, and his family, because he took the ultimate -- he did his job and he was where he was supposed to be -- and the family suffered. That could have been anyone."

McCuiston and Weeks, however, deflected suggestions that they may be heroes as well because if they had not stopped von Brunn, there's no telling how many of the more than 2,000 people visiting the museum at the time could have been injured or killed.

"A lot of people are going to be saying what they have been saying, 'You are a hero, you're this, you're that,' " McCuiston said. "It's like we tell everybody, 'We chose this job, it's a job. It's the same as a firefighter who would walk into a building, that is his job, he chose to do it.' "


Johns' funeral on Friday has been moved to a larger church in the Washington area to accommodate all of the people who want to attend, and the museum will be closed most of the day so that his colleagues can attend.

"Everyone knows when you lose someone, death is one of the worst things, even though it is reality," McCuiston said. "Time will hopefully heal all, and hopefully there will be a little bit of closure with us and the family and we can all just move forward but never forget what a wonderful man he was."

All About United States Holocaust Memorial MuseumJames von Brunn

  • E-mail
  • Save
  • Print