WASHINGTON — The security guard gunned down at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Wednesday loved that he was there to protect people and loved what the museum represented, his mother said.
"My son is at peace now, and although I miss him terribly, I know that he is at peace," Jacqueline Carter said.
Stephen T. Johns, 39, of Temple Hills, Md., was described as a warm man with a wonderful smile who acted courageously when the gunman opened fire in the building.
The gunman exchanged fire with guards, including Johns, who died at a Washington hospital from his injuries, police said. Authorities have said 88-year-old James W. von Brunn, a white supremacist, was under investigation in the shooting.
"The nation is just too full of hatred," Carter said. "Hatred killed him. Hatred, just hatred. And I just wish that we could have a change from inside out so that we won't take away lives that we can't give back."
Johns had never been happier in his life, Carter said. He had just celebrated a one-year wedding anniversary, and he adored his 11-year-old son, Junior.
"As he was looking at his dad, you know, stretched out, I'm sure he was probably thinking, 'I hope he wakes up,'" Carter said.
Carter raised Junior from age 2 to 10, she said, and she hopes to comfort him as she seeks comfort herself.
"I have God on my side and I pray and I know that He will uphold me and lift me up, says, 'I'll be with you always,' and this is one of the always times," Carter said.
Sara Bloomfield, director of the museum, described Johns as "a great friend who greeted us every day with a wonderful smile — and he will be missed."
"Obviously, there are no words to express our grief and shock," she said.
Johns, a 1988 graduate of Crossland High School in Maryland, worked for Wackenhut Services Inc., based in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., that has contracted security services at the museum since 2002, according to a company statement. Johns had been posted at the museum since joining the firm in 2003. The museum has about 70 officers and supervisors on the force.
"He'd been with the company over seven years, probably, and he was one of the best officers we had," said coworker Edison Hoston.
Hoston said those who protect and serve at local museums are a tight-knit group.
"We always say if something was to go down, we'd always look out for one another," Hoston said. "We stick together as a unit. When ... they told me that somebody had gotten to the front door, I knew they weren't going to let the shooter get out of the door if he got in there. We're going to protect each other."
Guards are armed with .38-caliber revolvers and dress in police-type uniforms, the company said. It said preliminary details indicate the officers responded appropriately when facing the gunman, who opened fire with a rifle.
The president and others commended the work of Johns and the other guards.
"We have lost a courageous security guard who stood watch at this place of solemn remembrance," President Barack Obama said in a statement. "My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends in this painful time."
D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty also had words of praise.
"The men and women in uniform who put their lives on the line to ensure our safety are truly heroes, and I am deeply saddened that this senseless act of violence threatened the safety of our community," Fenty said in a statement.
Bill Parsons, chief of staff at the museum, said Johns and other guards "did exactly what they were supposed to do to protect people at the museum."
"Never take your guard force and security people for granted," he said.