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Gunman kills three at Jewish centres in Kansas

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Carey Gillam

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Jewish centre shootings claim three

Police have a suspect in custody after shootings that killed three people and wounded one at two Kansas Jewish facilities, in what could be a hate crime.

PT0M0S 620 349

Overland Park, Kansas: Three people were killed in shootings at a Jewish community centre and at a Jewish elderly care home in a Kansas City suburb, and a suspect has been taken into custody, authorities said.

Police said they did not have a motive for the shootings on Sunday, but were not ruling out the possibility that the shootings were a hate crime. They have called in the Federal Bureau of Investigation to assist with the investigation, Overland Park Police Chief John Douglass told a news conference.

"We know it's a vicious act of violence. Obviously two Jewish facilities, one might make that assumption," Douglass said.

Three people were killed in gunfire at two Jewish centres in Kansas.

Three people were killed in gunfire at two Jewish centres in Kansas. Photo: AP/KSHB41 Action News

Police arrested the suspected shooter, a white male in his 70s, outside a nearby school. He smiled and reportedly made anti-Semitic statements as he was led away.

The shootings started around 1pm local time at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Kansas City in Overland Park, Kansas. Two male victims in a parking lot outside the centre were shot, with one dying at the scene and another later at a hospital. The shooter then drove just a mile away to the Village Shalom retirement community that provides skilled nursing services for residents. A female was shot and killed there, Douglass said.

Two other people were shot at, but not hit, the police chief said, and a shotgun was involved and possibly other types of guns.

The suspect, a bearded white male in his 70s, was taken into custody in the parking lot of a nearby elementary school, Douglass said. Douglass declined to identify the suspect, but said he was not from Kansas.

Douglass said he could not confirm reports that the suspect had said "Heil Hitler" while in the back of the squad car after being taken into custody.

"The suspect in the back of a car made several statements," Douglass said. "We are sifting through and vetting those for accuracy, number one, and number two we are looking at them for their evidentiary value."

The community centre, 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 groups were meeting and the academy was preparing for a school dance. Hundreds of teenager singers were expected to audition for a local singing contest and actors were rehearsing for a production of To Kill a Mockingbird.

"There were tons of kids because this was about to start at 1 o'clock," said publicist for the KC SuperStar contest Ruth Bigus. 

Bailey Wainestock, 16, said she was attending a youth organisation meeting with other girls at the community centre when they were told it had been locked down due to a shooting. They barricaded the door until security officers rushed them out afterward.

"We didn't know what to think, we were all in shock," she said in an interview.

Matt Davis was shopping for bar mitzvah suits with his son when he heard about the shooting at the Jewish Community Centre, where his daughter was dancing. He headed to the centre and saw the suspect, a heavyset man in handcuffs, being arrested at the school nearby. The man was smiling.

The Kansas City area has a Jewish community of about 20,000.

Rabbi David Glickman, of the Beth Shalom Synagogue in Overland Park, rushed to the community centre when he heard the news of the shooting. 

"This is so aberrational. Everybody is shocked that it would happen here," said Rabbi Glickman. "This is a community that enjoys very strong and positive relations between the Jewish community and the rest of the community."

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback called the shootings "senseless."

"We will pursue justice aggressively for these victims," Mr Brownback said in a statement.

Reuters, MCT

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